Stone’s Latest is Anything but ‘Savage’

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Dating back to the early 1980s, Oliver Stone began to establish his name as one of the edgiest, radical and sometimes quite controversial filmmakers in Hollywood. Almost every film he has made contains subliminal messaging that reverts to his social and political views in America at the said time. Although Stone has been off the map from making movies of this kind, he’s back in his infamous form with his latest film “Savages.”

Adapted from Don Winslow’s novel of the same name, the film focuses on the duo of Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), who both run an extremely successful marijuana growing business headquartered in Laguna Beach, CA. Additionally, they’re both in a relationship with the free-spirited hippie, O (Blake Lively). After refusing to accept a deal with the Baja drug cartel headed by Elena La Reina (Salma Hayek), the cartel’s lead enforcer (Benicio del Toro) kidnaps O, which leads Ben and Chon vowing revenge on the cartel to rescue her.

One thing that is common with nearly every Oliver Stone film in existence is the star-studded ensemble cast. Surprisingly, even with odd choices like Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively headlining it, almost everyone is on their A-game in the portrayal of their roles, especially Kitsch, who plays a character that is actually very well-suited to his small acting range. Aaron Johnson is also solid alongside Taylor Kitsch, though his full acting potential still felt a bit restrained in several scenes towards the end of the film.

Blake Lively, on the other hand, was mostly flat in her performance as the kidnapped hippie. She progressively shows emotion as the film goes on, but her narration was thuddingly uninteresting because of how one-note her line delivery was.

Salma Hayek and Benicio del Toro, though, are in a league of their own above the rest of the ensemble by delivering scene steal-worthy performances as the film’s main villains. Hayek’s slimy line delivery fulfills the minimum expectations for a villain of this kind, but this critic still couldn’t help but laugh when she dropped the F-word at certain points because of her thick Spanish. Del Toro meanwhile is gloriously over-the-top as Hayek’s lead enforcer, as he is expressing extreme charisma on screen by being both evil, funny and exquisitely charming, sometimes even all at the same time in certain scenes.

However, director Oliver Stone is the real star of this film. Due to the fact he hasn’t made an acclaimed film since “Nixon,” his stylistic approach to this film’s insane plot is bound to please his devoted fans.  Here, his style is more reminiscent to his cult hit “Natural Born Killers,” where the cinematography is beautifully lush and the color palette sometimes transitions between color and black & white. Also, hearkening back to “NBK” in this film is the violence, which is unflinchingly brutal at times, especially a torture scene that will have people squirming in their seats from its graphic detail.

Even though Stone delivers a career comeback with this brutal, oddly entertaining thriller, the film itself does follow the expected tropes of the drug thriller genre. It does get quite predictable towards the end, but it reverses that factor with its surprise climax ending. In addition, the film takes a while to pick up both interest and pace, as the first thirty minutes or so are nowhere as involving as the remaining runtime that follows.

Nonetheless, “Savages” is a somewhat flawed yet still entertaining negotiation thriller that thrives off of its lead performances, graphic violence and stylistic direction by Oliver Stone. Not a film for the light-hearted by any means, but it’s still a serviceable thriller for the fans of either Stone or the talented actors involved.

Rating: 3.5/5