Sunday, July 29, 2012


Starring: Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek
Oliver Stone
Running Time:
2 hours, 11 minute

I was sold on “Savages” from the trailer alone.  Shots of beautiful people in gorgeous Southern California, while Eminem (featuring Nate Dogg)’s catchy “Till I Collapse” plays in the background sets you up for an intense film, to say the least. The unexpected chaos resonates from start to finish. Veteran actors and fresh, young starlets create memorable characters – Benicio del Toro wins most memorable by far – and the story is a definite warning to stay out of the drug-dealing world. Exquisite cinematography and Oliver Stone’s reputation for violence and shock value was totally met. And though it’s not quite in the same league, "Savages" tries awfully hard to be this generation's "Pulp Fiction."

Set in exquisite Laguna Beach, Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are the masterminds behind growing and distributing the best marijuana in the world. Ben is the hippie botanist, while Chon is the short-tempered ex-soldier, who makes sure no one causes them any problems. They seem to have the life many dream of: twenty-somethings with plenty of money, a beach-front mansion, and a girl – whom they share. Blake Lively plays O, short for Ophelia, and though we see her with both of them in the first ten minutes, she seems to truly love them both (though her chemistry with Aaron Johnson is much stronger on-screen.)

Photo courtesy Zap2It
Ben and Chon decide it’s time to get out of the weed biz, and refuse an offer to partner with a Mexican cartel. (Each time the cartel contacted them, the notably likeable theme song from the Mexican TV show “El Chavo del Ocho” played – I’m trying to make it my ringtone.) Benicio del Toro is unrecognizable as Lado, the thug who handles the cartel’s dirty work. This is del Toro at his best since “21 Grams.” His creepy slicing of a steak with a pocketknife was enough to give me goose bumps.

Photo courtesy ScreenRant

The cartel decides to hold O hostage, to give Ben and Chon a chance to reconsider their offer. For being their prisoner, O is given a bed, toothbrush and a hairbrush. Not TOO shabby. I suppose Blake Lively was actually the best choice for this role, though I got tired of looking at her dirty hair. And she really ought to try a different character than Gossip Girl’s Serena van der Woodsen. The most spine-tingling scene is when they almost cut off her fingers with shears. In real life, I’m sure this would have happened. 

Salma Hayek is by default, the head of the cartel. Though she hasn’t aged a bit, she wasn’t as fierce as I was hoping. I’m not sure she was the right choice. John Travolta was eating in every scene, and provided the subtle, sporadic humor. Emile Hirsch makes an always welcomed addition to the film. The ending surprises you, and leaves you thinking long after you depart the theatre. “Pulp Fiction” will always be in my all-time top 5, but “Savages” could easily become a cult classic as well.

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