Movies: "Savages" | Arts & Culture
“Just because I’m telling this story doesn’t mean I’ll be alive at the end of it,” says O -- for Ophelia -- (Blake Lively) at the very start of “Savages,” Oliver Stone’s stylish, violent take on the drug wars now raging on both sides of the US-Mexican border.
Throughout the movie, you have to wonder the same thing.
Things start off just fine for O and her two lovers, Chon (Taylor Kitsch, making a good recovery from “John Carter”) and Ben (Englishman Aaron Johnson, who played John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy” and also starred in “Kick-Ass”). Chon, a tough Iraq War veteran had earlier teamed up with Berkeley botanist Ben to grow the most righteous weed in all of California, and their efforts have brought sweet rewards: a groovy beach house, nights at snazzy restaurants and, best of all, a golden girl for them to share.
But a gruesome e-mail intrudes on their idyll, accompanied by an invitation to take a meeting with Mexico’s Baja Cartel, which wants in on the marijuana operation. Fronting for the cartel is the stone killer Lado (Benicio del Toro, sporting the worst hair ever). When the boys refuse to play ball, Lado and his men snatch O at the behest of the cartel’s cruel queen bee Elena (a game Salma Hayek).
But Chon and Ben have some cards of their own up their sleeves, including a savvy computer hacker (gotta love Emile Hirsch), some of Chon’s old SEAL buddies, who apparently brought all their guns and ammo home from the wars, and a crooked DEA Agent (John Travolta). And now they’ll go to war against the drug cartel to try to get O back safe and sound.
Love him or hate him, you have to give Oliver Stone style points. From “Platoon” and “JFK” to “Natural Born Killers,” his movies are full of flash and daring, and “Savages” is no exception. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Shane Salerno and Stone, the plot is basically a revenge caper. But thanks to Stone’s snappy directing, it’s much more of a kick than it otherwise might have been. Scenes run backwards, some are shot in black and white, some are solarized, others take place on TV or computer screens. (The cinematography is by Stone veteran Dan Mindel, and the rapid-fire editing is by Joe Hutshing, Alex Marquez and sound man Stuart Levy.)
The music is also riveting, thanks to Adam Peters, particularly his use of some nifty covers of “Psycho Killer” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Kitsch is solid as the icy cold veteran, Johnson is even better as the humane botanist forced by circumstance to take lives. Lively isn’t a great actress but she turns in a good performance as the pampered blonde now in captivity. But by far the best performance here is Hayek’s, as the third wicked queen I’ve seen on the big screen in recent months. Is Hollywood trying to tell us something? By the way, I have to feel sorry for supporting actor Julio Leal, identified only as "Beheading Victim."
“Savages” -- which gets its title from the various ways people in the movie describe their enemies or themselves -- is rated R for its sex scenes and much bloody violence. Be warned. However, I give it a B-Plus.