Oliver Stone used to direct good movies. Films like Platoon, Wall Street, and JFK are legitimately great movies that are much more entertaining than their subject matter should afford. But several of his more recent films have been so disappointing or disinteresting that I was afraid he’d lost his touch. Fortunately, while Savages has its flaws, it’s also a step back in the right direction.
Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitch) are best friends who share everything, even their mutual girlfriend Ophelia (Blake Lively). They’re in the business of growing and selling marijuana, with Ben as the botanical and financial brains of the operation, Chon as the brawn, and Ophelia (who usually just goes by “O”) as their mutual plaything. Business is very good, thanks in large part to Ben’s ability to engineer ever more potent strains, and their competitors are getting worried. And in this business, getting worried often means getting violent.
Lado (Benicio Del Toro) is the lead henchman and enforcer for a Mexican drug lord, and he’s been sent to convince Ben and Chon that they it would be in their best interests to form a partnership, with them supplying the product and the Mexican cartel using their network to sell it. Of course, Ben and Chon don’t really like the idea of giving someone else a share of the profits for a service that they don’t want or need, but they have no choice but to accept after the Mexicans kidnap O and use her as a bargaining chip. And then they started preparing to get her back.
First, the negatives. Savages is unnecessarily long, and its slow pacing really helps emphasize that. If they’d compressed it by about twenty minutes, it would have been much less tedious and more entertaining. I also really dislike the ending, which seems like a real slap in the face to the intelligent viewer. It’s the kind of ending that has worked well in other films, although most of them are comedies, and they also didn’t take it to quite the extreme that Savages did. A film’s ending can greatly impact your ultimate impression of it, and I think that a better ending would have helped forgive some of its other problems.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the basic story (except for the ending) and much of the supporting cast. I didn’t really care for Ophelia as a character or Blake Lively’s portrayal of her, nor did I completely buy her love triangle with Ben and Chon, but it did provide opportunities for good performances from John Travolta and Salma Hayek, and more peripheral parts for Emile Hirsch, Demián Bichir, and Joel David Moore. With a more likeable female lead (and perhaps one for each of the guys rather than sharing one between them), I think it would have been a pretty good film.