Savages is a return to form for Oliver Stone, who reminds us of his Natural Born Killers days in this viscious film about love, drug cartels and consequences.
From the outset, viewers are treated to the visual mastery Stone is famous for, as he swoops along the coast of Laguna Beach to introduce us to the ménage à trois at the center of the action in Savages.
Blake Lively plays O, the flowing blonde beauty at the center of Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson)'s lives. The pair produce some of the best ganja in the world, and O -- named for Shakespeare's damaged Ophelia -- smokes it, screws them both, and completes a trio of stoned, loving contentment.
Nice set-up, but this being a Stone flick, something gory and violent has to start happening pretty quickly, and he doesn't disappoint. Just a few scenes in, after Chon and O have finished a vigorous romp and O has lit up the bowl in her post-orgasmic bliss, Chon -- a cold-blooded former U.S. Marie turned surfer/pothead -- gets an e-mail from a Mexican drug cartel bearing video of decapitated heads, red animated blood and creepy merengue music. It's an invitation to meet with the cartel and cut a deal.
From there, we meet a cast of sordid characters, from the aging, corrupt DEA agent played perfectly by John Travolta to the murderous socipath played so chillingly by Benicio del Toro, to the cold, maniacal cartel mastermind Salma Hayek portrays convincingly.
The plot is a rip-roaring ride back and forth between Cali and Mexico, as the American suppliers and cartel enforcers navigate the high-stakes game of drugs, kidnapping, murder and deceit that the drug trade has become.
Like Hunter S. Thompson does in his classic The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, Oliver Stone -- through the masterful screenplay of writer Don Winslow -- shows us that in judging the savages around us, we often become them ourselves.
By the end of the film, Chon and Ben are just as bad as the cartel members they fight so hard to defeat, kidnapping a girl, setting a man on fire and staging high-stakes attacks. But in a twist on that standard theme, Stone leaves us with some empathy for the duo, as no bad deed they commit comes un-provoked by the cartel -- or so Chon and Ben want desperately to believe in order to come out of the situation not just with their lives, but with some small remaining shred of their souls.
It's an interesting psychological premise: to what extreme will we go when left with no alternative, though it's one we've seen time and again. Oliver Stone, however, being Oliver Stone, is able to make this basic conceit seem fresh and relevant, with no small amount of help from Winslow and the deftly-crafted screenplay.
Savages is Oliver Stone back on his game, and with the all-star cast, sleek cinematography and gritty screenplay, it's the first must-see he's had in years.