I’m guessing a lot of you probably weren’t interested in seeing Savages, which is okay because it does take a special person to like and/or understand movies like this one. Most people go to the movies because they want to escape from reality—they want to laugh and be rewarded with happy endings. But director and screenplay-writer Oliver Stone doesn’t cater to those types of moviegoers.
Stone likes movies with dark, realistic plots, and his characters are all centered around the cruelty that is human nature. I mean, come on! This is the man who wrote the screenplays for Scarface (1983), Platoon (1986), and Wall Street (1987). Savages (which is based on a novel by Don Winslow) is no different, hence the title.
Here’s how Universal describes the plot: “Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Johnson), a peaceful and charitable Buddhist, and his closest friend Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry-raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia (Blake Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town…until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena (Salma Hayek), and her brutal enforcer, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), underestimate the unbreakable bond among these three friends, Ben and Chon—with the reluctant, slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent (John Travolta)—wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel.”
You’ve probably caught on from my previous reviews that I like to see dimensional characters in a movie. Well, good news! Savages delivers on that end. I don’t know if that’s because Oliver Stone just chose a great novel on which to base his screenplay, or if it’s because he directed his actors to all have darker sides—either way, EVERY character in this movie is a terrible person in some way or another. They’re hypocritical, they’re greedy, they’re possessive, they’re selfish, they’re murderers, they’re liars—the list goes on.
Ben might be a Buddhist who gives to charity, but he runs an independent Californian marijuana business, selling both to medical outlets and illegal dealers, so the money he gives to charity is dirty. Chon is an ex-mercenary and former Navy SEAL, who basically uses his military training to force people to pay for their illegal drugs or give him information. Ophelia is a vapid, rich girl, who sleeps with both Ben and Chon and spends their (or her mother’s) money.
Elena runs the Mexican Baja cartel (and she’s a total ball-buster) and has Ophelia kidnapped and abused in order to get Ben and Chon to join with her cartel after they refuse her. Lado does all of the dirty work for Elena, which means he pretty much just tortures, rapes, and murders anyone who crosses the cartel; but he also back-stabs Elena by plotting against her. And Dennis is a DEA agent who not only buys from Ben and Chon’s marijuana business, but he also sneaks Ben and Chon government information on the cartel as well as cuts deals on the side with Lado.
See what I mean? They’re not exactly good people. You could even argue that they’re “savages” (Oh, ho! It’s funny because that’s the title of the movie!) And even better is that all of these “savages” also have weaknesses that create both inner- and outer-conflict—things like lovers, family, money, power, religion, etc. Each character has at least one redeeming quality; but, in general, they’re just bad, which makes them unique among movie characters.
My favorite characters, of course, were Ben and Chon. I can’t tell you how much I love a good bromance. And this movie had SO MUCH BROMANCE. I could tell the movie was doing well in terms of direction because I honestly didn’t give two shits whether or not Ophelia died, as long as Ben and Chon’s companionship (No, not a gay companionship) remained intact throughout all of their struggles.
The best parts for the bromance—besides the moment leading up to the climax where the two guys both said how much they loved each other—were the ones when Chon was trying to talk Ben through the violence, as Ben had never killed anyone and was having some difficulties coming to terms with it when he finally did. I mean, the bromance was so good that even Elena told Ophelia that Ben and Chon’s sharing her didn’t show how much they loved her, but rather how much they loved each other.
Also, this might sound strange, but I kind of liked that the sex scenes happened right in the beginning. Where most movies muddy the plot by adding sex scenes just for audience thrills, this movie used sex as a backstory for the relationship triangle between Ben and Ophelia, Ophelia and Chon, and Chon and Ben. It was like, “Here’s your sex. Now, shut up and watch the goddamn movie.” Plus, I loved the whole “Chon f***s, but Ben makes love” comparison between the two scenes. And we even got a three-way!
My number one problem with this movie, however, was the ending. At one point, the movie tricks you into thinking that everybody dies in the end—that Ben, Chon, and Ophelia all die in each other’s arms after a huge shoot-out with Elena, Lado, and their respective snipers. But then, it rewinds and replays what “actually” happened, which was more or less the shitty, stereotypical Hollywood ending where evil is punished and good is rewarded. But the problem with that ending is that someone apparently forgot that Savages is about all of the characters being evil in some way. Logically, they all should’ve died.
Instead, we got a “happy” ending with Elena being arrested, Lado working with some other Mexican big-wig, Dennis getting all kinds of recognition for his drug bust, and the love triangle going into tropical destination hiding. UGH. Now, I didn’t read the novel, so I don’t know if that’s how it ended in the book; but I will say that, if this was Hollywood’s doing, I’m getting so sick and tired of it. They think every movie has to end with everybody surviving and being in love. BULLSHIT. The trick ending was more realistic! If this truly was a movie about the shitstorm that is the drug wars, then why didn’t everyone die as a result of said shitstorm? I personally think it would’ve been way more classic and artsy if Ben, Chon, and Ophelia had died in each other’s arms the way they did in the trick ending. It would’ve been almost Shakespearean, which reminds me…
I wish the Shakespeare references in this movie would’ve been much more subtle. The whole “I was named Ophelia after the character in Hamlet” at the very beginning of the movie wasn’t very subtle; nor was mentioning the painting of Hamlet featuring the scene of Ophelia’s death in the river. This movie has some serious Shakespearean parallels, as it plays out very much like a tragedy (Hell, it kind of reminded me of Titus Andronicus). And you know Oliver Stone realized that. But why, then, did they try to force it so much? Why did they have to point out the painting of Ophelia hanging in the background when it could’ve been much more interesting as a movie Easter Egg?
And was it just me, or did Blake Lively sounded bored during every voiceover. Either that or she was high—and given the circumstances of the movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually was. I also didn’t like that her voiceover narrative had to explain every character that we came across. A general rule of thumb: If the character doesn’t have speaking lines, their name is irrelevant.
And on a final note…why did Elena pull her wig off? I mean, we knew Salma Hayek was wearing a wig for the character, but what purpose did it serve that the character pulled the wig off? Unless Elena was supposed to be suffering from cancer and receiving chemo treatments that required her to wear a wig, why is it important for us to know she’s wearing a wig?
Overall, this movie is a gritty and rather violent look into the lives of drug lords, both Mexican and American. I applaud Oliver Stone for his realism because it made me very thankful that I’m not involved with cartels. I really did like this movie for its story, its characters, and its pretty wicked action sequences. Even though there wasn’t really a good-natured protagonist in this movie, I still liked all of the characters. Picking favorites was like a game of the lesser-of-two-evils. Like I said above, my biggest complaint with this movie is that I think it should’ve ended five minutes earlier (with the fake ending)—but that’s just me. I’m pretty sure a lot of “average” moviegoers will like it better with the ending it has because they don’t care about plots and story arcs and what not. If you can’t stomach strong violence, blood, or rape, then I wouldn’t suggest this movie. If you can, then enjoy…because there is PLENTY of it.