Oliver Stone is a king of trashy, and like Brian de Palma before him, the man understands the appeal of sex and violence. He may have diverted his attention to September 11th features and South American political documentaries over the last ten years, but his newest film, SAVAGES, is a return to form for the director who made a name exploring the devastation of human ambition, how sex and drugs are weapons of mass destruction, and the intoxicating power of nontraditional love stories. SAVAGES is a ravaging film full of uncomfortable moments, glamorous junkies, and disgustingly beautiful people.
And I loved every minute of it.
On the surface, SAVAGES is a David battle Goliath-inspired tale of two independent boutique pot growers refusing to merge with a Wal-mart sized Mexican drug cartel who wants nothing more than to branch out of their current markets and take on something a bit more “organic.” Best friends Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) insanely believe they can walk away from the Baja Cartel’s offer without repercussions, despite the horrifically violent videos the Cartel’s head honcho, Elena (Salma Hayek), has her muscleman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) sends the pair as their brutal invitation for Sunday dinner. Ben and Chon entertain the offer, which only pisses Elena off more. She is not a woman who likes to be patronized.
Elena learns of O (Blake Lively), the film’s narrator and shared lover of Chon and Ben’s, and sets out to collect the beach beauty as a way of strong-arming the men into agreeing to her terms. What she doesn’t expect is just how vicious the two men can get when someone messes with their toys. Throw in a double-crossing, opportunistic DEA agent (John Travolta) to the mix and SAVAGES just might be the greatest smut masterpiece of 2012. And don’t forget the incredibly hot, shirtless men (MAGIC MIKE, eat your heart out).
Under its surface lurks an extremely messy attempt at seriousness, but the flaws are what make SAVAGES fun and, at times, whimsical. Stone’s plot is minimal, yet he throws in a few twists that, if not surprising, are brave. He doesn’t care if we like his characters, because they are obviously not likeable (or carry the capacity for Good), but even his most vile character has redemptive qualities. A mother’s love can weaken Elena just as quickly as it can turn her to fire. A Zen Ben can forget his pacifism and turn cold-blooded. In a way only Hollywood understands, these are human beings. And human beings are, above all, savage.