Film Review: Nerd of Noir Looks at SAVAGES

Release date: July 6th, 2012
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Don Winslow (Screenplay, novel), Shane Salerno (screenplay)
Stars: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Selma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro Uma Thurman, John Travolta

Savages is Oliver Stone’s best movie since JFK.  The guy is fucking on fire with this one, the movie often just as sexy, cool, violent, and exciting as the Don Winslow novel upon which it is based.  I was one hundred percent on board with the film all the way…and then the bucket of ice-cold piss that is the film’s cheat ending was thrown on me, killing my buzz something terrible.

But before we get into that, lemme hip you to what Savages is about (though really you should read the book – it takes about three hours to burn through).  Ben (Aaron Johnson), Chon (Taylor Kitsch), and O (Blake Lively) live a charmed life together in Laguna Beach, CA.  Ben is a brilliant botanist who has developed legendarily potent weed, Chon is his brutal Iraq and Afghanistan vet enforcer, and O is the twosome’s beach bunny girlfriend.  Their big-money/low-stakes pot operation gets thrown into chaos when the Mexican drug cartel, led by Salma Hayek’s Elena and her nasty enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), starts strong-arming them.

Instead of taking Elena’s deal they decide to run to Indonesia, come back in a year or two when the heat’s off.  But before they can flee the cartel grab O and take her hostage, forcing the boys into business with them.  But if you think they’re gonna let their girl rot while they give over huge quantities of their pot to the cartel assholes, you don’t know Chon and Ben.

First off, the cast is fucking terrific.  Taylor Kitsch plays Chon as the ultimate badass, war-hardened and always down to do whatever bad shit needs doing in the name of business or love.  Aaron Johnson nails Ben’s descent from beach bum Buddhist to reluctant killer while Blake Lively brings the charm as the sexy O, then makes us believe her harrowing journey in captivity every second.

Great to see Salma Hayek actually get a good role and even better to watch her knock it out the fucking park, giving us a drug lord who is ruthless during business yet motherly and warm in her family life.  Also fun to watch Benicio Del Toro slime it up as the detestable Lado (god, I hope he gets more shit to do, guy used to be my favorite actor back in the Traffic days).  Hell, even John Travolta is the best he’s been in years as corrupt DEA agent Dennis, leaving me hope that he does more character roles like this from now on (he could really give Alec Baldwin a run for his money).

Stone’s usual breathless sense of pace is well-suited to this story, the two hours-plus movie seemed to fly by in no time at all.  The action and suspense scenes are extremely effective and gloriously violent and the tension never lets up.  The vistas are great too, with Laguna Beach looking like nothing short of ritzy paradise with every locale south of there (save a couple of manors owned by the high-class Elena) looking like paradise well-fucking lost.  Though Stone’s overly-stylized tics usually annoy the hell out of me, what flourishes there were in Savages didn’t bother me in the slightest…until the final few minutes of the film.

I want to step gingerly here because, you know, it’s the ending of the film and all and, you know, who wants that shit spoiled?  But I will say that the way they wrap up this film is a major fucking groaner, the filmmakers trying to have their cake and eat it too in the silliest, most annoying way fucking possible.

But though the ending bugs the shit out of me (and soured a few of my friends on the film entirely), I very much recommend Savages to any crime fan out there.  There’s too much greatness in this film to write it off for some very poor choices in the home stretch.  Hell, maybe the way to approach this movie is to go in with high spirits and, when the film feels like it’s reached its natural and righteous endpoint, flee the theater with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears (note: you might wanna get a seat on the aisle).

The Nerd of Noir is a blogger in the Twin Cities. Links to his reviews of crime and noir fiction, film, TV, and comics can be found at his blog http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com . He’s a movie freak in general and is constantly giving 140 character reviews of every damn thing he sees on his twitter page, twitter.com/nerdofnoir . Apparently, the Nerd of Noir is also a blatant self-promoter. His real name is arguably Pete Dragovich.