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Do believe some of the hype: Savages is a return to old school Oliver Stone, the guy that brought us such violent excursions into human psyche as the 1983 Scarface and Natural Born Killers. However, Savages isn't as sharply edged as those earlier stories, and it also contains one serious and major storytelling flaw that nearly costs the film all of its good qualities.
Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are two best buds growing their own bud. Self-made millionaires living the slacker good life right on beachfront property in California, they share their success (and bed) with a girl named O (Blake Lively). Ben and Chon's potent herb is so superior over the competitors that it forces the hand of the Mexican drug cartel owned by Elena (Salma Hayek) to offer a savage deal to the pair: either partner up with the deadly Mexicans for three years and show them how to grow their super-weed or something bad will happen.
Before the guys can call it quits and get out of dodge, the Mexicans kidnap O and hold her hostage to keep Ben and Chon's op in business. Now the two need to satisfy the humiliating demands of Elena or else O will have her sabbatical away from her lovers cut permanently short by Lado (Benicio Del Toro), Elena's right-hand killing man. Can the military savvy of Chon find a way to bring O back safe and sound? And can Ben step up and forgo his pacifistic nature to get back the woman he co-loves?
Based on Don Winslow's 2010 book of the same name, Savages has the proper ingredients to make it a compelling thriller/action picture yet it never gets up to an intense burn. Kitsch and Lively are passible in their one-dimensional roles as two sides of the love triangle. Aaron Johnson comes across better as Ben, the more zen of the trio, and has a better story arc than his two counterparts. As villains, both Del Toro and Hayek are good, with Benicio's Lado played with a perfect balance of menace, sleazyness and goofball. John Travolta offers good comedic value as a DEA agent on the down-low with the guys he's supposed to be after.
Stone's directing style is less manic here than the rapid cut imagery seen in Any Given Sunday, Nixon or JFK; maybe it's the director mellowing out in his mid-sixties, or maybe it's a new approach he's feeling out. I was enjoying Savages fine enough until there came a point about 10 minutes from the ending when Stone decided to pull a creative twist that ripped me right out of the movie. Judging from the groans that rippled across the theater at the screening, it seemed to me that a lot of people felt similarly sucker punched. If I close my eyes and rub them really hard, I can sorta see why Stone wanted to try and explore the kind of storytelling concept he pulled on me. However, in the end it feels more like a case of wanting to have your cake and eat it at the same time.
Savages ain't bad, but that ending left such a sour taste in my mouth that it took a while for it to dissapate (even after brushing.) When co-workers asked me what I thought of the movie the next day, I found that it had lowered my rating for the movie overall. That's a helluva thing to do, but Savages proved to me that it could be done. It was like going out to dinner and having a good time, but then at the end the waiter drops your dessert on your lap. After a lengthy apology, you get your dessert and a discounted bill, but on the drive home all that now stands out is the accident. A couple of days later you've forgotten about it, because it's ultimately not that big a deal. And that's where Savages lies.
Review Score: 50 / 100
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