‘Savages’ Movie Review – One Tough Sell
This movie is one of my favorites of the year. There’s no reason to be subtle about it.
Because God knows Oliver Stone’s Savages is anything but subtle. From Blake Lively’s opening narration (something I’ll touch on more later) to the conclusion, the movie teases us on the trio’s survival. While that part may be ambiguous, their actions and relationships are not. This is a story about bromances, romances, violent action, the drug trade, corruption, military camaraderie, and just about everything else. It certainly doesn’t conceal the idea that we’re supposed to question which side is the “savage” side.
The main story, though? It’s about two best friends, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and their entrepreneurial drug adventures. Ben is the smart one, while Chon is the enforcer. They have a special relationship, though, as they both share Ophelia (Lively) as a girlfriend. The kicker: both of them are perfectly okay with the situation.
Touting the world’s best weed, their Laguna-based operation starts to cross paths with the Mexican cartel. The cartel, led by Elena (Salma Hayek) and her enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro), wants to join forces, while Chon and Ben wrestle with the idea of a) teaming up, b) fighting back, or c) getting out of the game. Any way you look at it, there are deadly consequences.
All the while, we are set up with the fact that just because Ophelia (or simply “O” as they call her) is narrating the story doesn’t mean she is necessarily alive. Although I didn’t think that was a huge part of the set-up, it turns out to be (and no, this isn’t spoiling anything).
So, what ultimately worked well? First of all, the action was stunning. Stone has been known to produce some violent pictures, making Savages a happy return to some gruesome stuff. From brain matter to eye sockets, we get some gnarly stuff. Violence aside, the action sequences were very good, particularly the heist scene.
Secondly, I really enjoyed the daytime setting. Unlike a lot of action movies, a bulk of the sequences took place during the light of day. In fact, the scenes reminded me a lot of the action hit The Town from a couple years ago. While we’re on the comparisons, the whole thing reminded me of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Although the movie pales in comparison, they share similarities based on drug qualities and being a bit in-over-their-heads.
However, I have to come to terms with my infatuation for the movie, just like you may have to. I can say all I want about the action, violence, style, setting, and performances (although I’ve skipped this altogether), but there are two glaring low spots. And, unfortunately, they come at the beginning and the end.
Starting with the beginning, Lively gives a quick, lifeless narration to essentially tell us the back story. The film probably didn’t have any time to spare, but I’d much rather be shown than told something.
Then, the end. However unconventional the love triangle may be, the ending takes the cake. While I made the trek back to my car following the screening, I spent the whole time digesting what I saw. Still today (three days later), I’m still not sure how to take it. This much I know, though: I didn’t prefer it. There are plenty of other ways this could’ve ended more effectively. There’s no doubt in my mind that its ending will ruin a lot of peoples’ experiences.
If there is one movie from this year I would bang my fist on the table and demand you see, it would probably be Savages. This does not mean it is this year’s best movie, but yes, I liked it a lot more than most other movies. However, this may be a case of “favorite” vs. “best” because my argument stands no chance with such an annoying beginning and flawed conclusion.
Still…I want you to experience it!