Monday, July 16, 2012


It is the calm before the biggest summer blockbuster of 2012 and film goers have a lot of options that shouldn't be ignored.  "Savages" is based on the novel of the same name written by Don Winslow that received best selling attention in 2010.  Two years later the script was fast tracked by Oliver Stone and is the adrenaline-fueled suspense crime thriller that everyone should be talking about this summer. 

The story has been compared to a modern day version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  But as the clever writing of the film reminds you "they both die" in that story, and makes you wonder how this story will end.  The film is narrated in a flash back style by Olivia “O” (Blake Lively) who is the shared-girlfriend of two marijuana growers from California.  “O” narrates that just because she is telling you the story, doesn’t mean that she is alive in the end of it.  This approach to narration is a bit cliché, and usually I don’t like narration as it can be a crutch in telling the story, however, Oliver Stone is a technician that knows just how to properly execute this style of narration. 

The film operates on a bro-mance level between Ben and Chon who are childhood friends that look out for each other.  Ben (Aaron Johnson) went to Berkley and double majored in business and botany; and is a Buddhist.  His best friend is Chon (Taylor Kitsch), who is a former Navy Seal that served in Afghanistan and Iraq; and is the enforcer of their Laguna Beach–based cannabis operation that has created pot with a THC level of 33%.  Their small operation gets challenged by the Mexican Baja Cartel lead by Elena (Salma Hayek) who wants their techniques in growing high quality cannabis.  When they refuse to sell out, the cartel escalates its threat, kidnapping “O”, which sets off a dizzying array of negotiations and plot twists.   Working for the cartel on the business side is Alex (Demián Bichir from “A Better Life”) and on the violent side is Lado (Benicio Del Toro).   The third story arch within the film involves the duplicitous and crooked DEA Agent Dennis (John Travolta) who has his own self-serving agenda that has is fingers in the cookie jar of everyone.  

Both Aaron Johnson, previously seen in "Albert Nobbs" (2011) and "Kick-Ass" (2010), and Taylor Kitsch, best known for “Friday Night Lights”, do a respectable job in their performances and feel like true friends with a childhood history.  Blake Lively works well with the two men on a physical level, but emotionally she is inconsistent.  She seems fairly level and grounded early on, but once she's kidnapped, she is a whiny brat making demands. With the criticism, I will say that she is better here than she was in "Green Lantern".  The rest of the cast deliver strong performances as can be expected from John Travolta, Benecio Del Toro, and Salma Hayek.  With all the masculinity in the film, it is the softness of Salma Hayek that even though she is the leader of the cartel she is also the most well rounded character.  The minor role portrayed by Emile Hirsch as the financial savvy tech that goes all the way to the far ends of this awkward character.   

My biggest complaint is in the final sequence of the film.  Without spoiling things for everyone, I just didn’t find the character resolution to be sufficient for what they went through up to that point.  It doesn’t ruin the entire film, but does leave you shaking your head and rolling your eyes.   

The film asks the question of how far you are willing to go for someone you love, and how savage you are willing to get to protect them.  There is savagery in all of is in the wrong circumstances and we all innately regress to the primal state of being, which is in and of itself “a savage”, which is where the story and the performances hit on the mark.  This is a 4 Quack film that if you are not able to get a seat at a summer blockbuster, “Savages” will give you everything that you want. 

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