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November 13, 2012

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Savages (2012)


Oliver Stone returns to form with this violent and offbeat yet colorful and intriguing tale of love and how far two men will go to retrieve it from the evil clutches of Mexican gangsters. That and their dope.

Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) live together in California with their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively), who also narrates the film part-time. Their love for the girl equals their love for one other but they’ll never admit to that. Ben grows pot, the best pot in the country, and travels the world assisting those in need. Chon was in the military and still carries guns around him at all times. He’s a loose cannon but a terrific friend to have around when it comes to operating a multimillion dollar pot growing and selling operation.

One day a powerful Mexican cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek) decides to join forces with Ben and Chon. Ben wants to sell the company to her, but she refuses to buy it outright because she prefers that Ben manufactures his own product and that all that’s left is for her cartel to distribute it. That means less work for her. Ben still refuses to join forces and so Elena has her top man Lado (Benicio Del Toro) kidnap O as collateral.

What transpires is an outright war. The film is vicious when it showcases grizzly violence (and there’s plenty of it) but it’s also just so aesthetically colorful and gorgeously shot that one is always somewhat taken out of the film. That’s a good thing because this could have been a very depressing and unbearably difficult film to watch. However, there are a few scenes that are tough to watch, mostly involving torture inflicted by Lado. Overall it’s such a fascinating film that one can’t stop watching.

DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) is also thrown into the mix at one point and we watch as he juggles his job and his life between Ben, Chon, and Lado. It’s like watching a mafia film: you just never know who’s going to die next and when.

There are two main reasons why the film is really good. One reason is that Ben, the pacifist, learns what it means to take a life a couple of times. At one incident, when Elena forces to him to murder just for the sake of it, we see what it really means to be human. When one grows pot for a living it means that he’s a lawbreaker but it doesn’t mean that he’s soulless or murderous. The film retains and boasts the frailness of the human condition through and through. The other reason why this is a good film is because there are tons of backstabs and almost everyone is unreliable.

Visually, the film lacks the usual flair and superfluous superimposed imagery that’s found in quintessential Oliver Stone films; films like Natural Born Killers (1994) and U Turn (1997). It’s a wise decision. Stone sidestepped the mundane films he’d been making lately and gone back to his “crazy filmmaking” roots but he also toned that aspect down drastically. What we have here is a sort of melting pot that combines aspects from gangsters films, ultra-violent, realistic looking violence, and a third act that can only be categorized as strange, and yet it kind of makes sense. The film is never boring.

I like this version of Oliver Stone. Hip without trying too hard, crazy without being off-putting. Let’s see what else he can come up with before he grows too old for this style of colorful, dramatic thriller.

The Blu-ray comes with the following special features: Stone Cold Savages, Deleted Scenes, Feature Commentary with Oliver Stone, and a Feature Commentary with the producers, the production designer, and co-screenwriter/novelist Don Winslow.


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