Release date: February 11th, 2013
Running time: 130 minutes
Director: Oliver Stone
Writers: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro
I’ve never understood the fascination with marijuana. As a teenager I saw too many of my friends sat in drug-induced states and reduced to nothing more than incoherent babbling idiots to ever want to do the same. Despite their assertions, it just never seemed “cool, man”. Still, marijuana is big business. Take a walk down Camden, Hackney, Brixton and other such areas in London and people from all walks of life will pass by reeking of the nauseous smell. Some will even whisper sideways to others “wanna buy some?” This psychoactive drug, which can be used as medicine, has remained a hot topic in our society with heated debates raging about its legalisation; many argue that decriminalising it will effectively put a lot of backstreet black market dealers out of business – this will be a good thing – but all that does is hand it over to pharmaceutical companies who already have enough to answer for.
Directed by Oliver Stone and based on the novel by Don Winslow, Savages tackles the issue of the marijuana industry and who profits from it, but it also weaves an intricate plot with an ensemble cast and some intense action sequences.
The film opens with a narration by O (Blake Lively) as she tells us about herself. She has an idyllic life in southern California where she’s involved with two brothers, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson). They knowingly share her between themselves; she’s the home they’ve never had and vice-versa. Their little ménage à trios could be a happily ever after one if it wasn’t for the fact that the brothers are operating a lucrative marijuana business that blossomed from the seeds Chon brought back from his tour of duty in Afghanistan – a place where the best stuff grows. Now it grows in California.
When a Mexican drug cartel offers them a shady deal that takes control away from the brothers, Chon and Ben turn them down, which in turn angers them. Realising there’s no way out, they know they must pack up and run before an attempt on their lives is made, but Lado (Benicio Del Toro) has already anticipated this, easily finding out that the best way to hurt them is to take away what they love the most – O (Blake Lively).
What then follows is a desperate attempt to get her back, but we also find out who’s really pulling the strings in the operation, and together with a crooked DEA agent called Dennis (John Travolta) we never really know who to trust as the tables keep turning.
What makes Savages interesting is the fact that it’s directed by Oliver Stone. Given his track record with films such as Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994), I’d hoped this would’ve been an explosive exposé on some of the lesser discussed tactics being employed by the US in Afghanistan under the guise of ‘War on Terror’. Unfortunately, it’s a weakly written film that might’ve been better left in the hands of Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino.
To begin with, the main cast (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson and Blake Lively) aren’t really convincing in their roles and at no time did I ever believe O feared for life as she seemed to be more concerned about not having a toothbrush and internet access or anything else to eat but pizza – a totally self involved brat who likes the sound of her own voice. For the most part there’s very little to care about with these characters and the only time Savages became interesting was with the scenes between her and Elena (Salma Hayek); the only complex character in the entire ensemble.
Much of the violence we see in the film is well orchestrated, but actors such as Shea Whigham and Emile Hirsch are so underused; it’s such a shame to see them come and go so quickly as their screen presence is much stronger than any of the three leads. On the whole, there’s not that much we learn about the marijuana industry that we didn’t already know, but given the hold it has on the brothers and O’s story about when she first started using it, Savages tells us more about our current culture than anything else – which makes it an appropriately titled film describing who and what we are today.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .