Monday, July 9, 2012
"Savages" is Oliver Stone's best movie in a score. His ham-fisted, too-much-is-never-enough style fits perfectly this brutally violent yet highly entertaining story of two Orange County surfing buddies (hunky Taylor Kitsch and soulful Aaron Johnson, the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy") who become legendary moguls of the marijuana trade. Blake Lively narrates their saga as O, short for Ophelia, the sexy blonde they share in their Laguna Niguel beach house. From the first few sentences ("I had orgasms, Chon had war-gasms"; "Ben was Buddhist; Chon was Baddist"), we know we could only be in the hands of Stone.
Ben (Johnson) double-majored in business and botany at Cal (boo), while Navy-SEAL-turned-mercenary Chon (Kitsch) brought back the world's best weed from his stints in Afghanistan. They understand that paying off the right DEA agent (a surprisingly good John Travolta) is simply a cost of doing business, but when the Mexican Baja Cartel demands to partner with them (and e-mails Chon a video showing the decapitation of the last guys to refuse their invitation), that changes the whole business model.
The kingpin of the Baja Cartel is a woman, Elena, played in a breakout performance by the beautiful Salma Hayek. Elena is an amazing creation. She inherited her position from her late husband and has seen two other sons murdered, but neutralized a third son to keep him from power and is proudest of her rebellious only daughter for despising her merciless mother. It is Elena who conceives of the masterstroke of kidnapping O, that which Ben and Chon value most, a job she delegates to her chief enforcer, Lado. Benicio del Toro plays the wily and insinuating Lado in such a way as to equally command our attention. These are showy, tour-de-force roles, and Hayek and Del Toro inhabit them memorably, riveting us every time they're onscreen.
It's hard to overstate the violence of "Savages," but it depicts a demimonde in which murder and torture are as much about advertising deterrence and enforcing compliance as the strategic removal of obstacles. The movie's also sexy and pretty to look at and a lot of blustery fun. In a cinema of filmmakers sleepwalking through the motions, Stone, whatever you think of him, makes movies that pulsate with energy and excitement. "Savages," at least, lives