After reading reviews in The Irish Times and The Guardian, both slating Savages and all it stands for, I had to question my own positive perception of the film and whether I was missing something completely different to these reputable naysayers. Maybe it’s because I went to the cinema with lower expectations, or that I could be accused of watching through a stereotypical male gaze for enjoying the scenes of violence and sexual promiscuity, but I found this movie delivered exactly what it says on the tin (That tin being Don Winslow’s 2010 novel of the same name, to which the script is based on).
The premise is straight forward in the category of drug related action features. Small time marijuana dealers operating out of Laguna Beach, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), come into conflict with big time drug dealers, the Mexican Baja Cartel, lead by Elena (Salma Hayak). Elena wants Ben and Chon to sign a contract to work for her but easy-going environmentalist Ben just wants to get out of the business while hardened ex-mercenary Chon wants to continue selling what is regarded as the ‘best weed ever’ to the licenced medical marijuana shops in California, along with their less legal clients. This ends up in the Mexican Cartel taking what they want from Ben and Chon by kidnapping and ransoming their “friend” O (Blake Lively). The rest of the film is spent focusing on the pair fighting for her back.
Elena’s right hand man, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), adds the dark, sinister element as seen from the moment he appears on screen. He is always one step ahead of the pair, along with Chon’s mercenary buddies who hang around to lend a hand . The action is one thing that cannot be dismissed in this film; exploding vehicles, kidnappings and day-light assassinations all add to the violent undertone of the business these characters are in. Let’s not forget the pièce de résistance of this entire production…..John Travolta. Now if your like me your image of the man has probably been tampered with by the troublesome off-screen accusations and my fear was that no matter how good the film was it would be ruined by his presence. How wrong I was. I enjoyed every minute Travolta was on screen and his character seemed to be suited perfectly for his present allegations. He plays Dennis, a corrupt DEA agent who has a finger in every pie (No puns intended). He feeds information to both the Mexican Cartel and Ben and Chon in return for financial gain and ends up having a final say on who comes out the winners of this competition between strength and will-power.
What isn’t so straight forward is Ben and Chon’s connection to O. All three appear to be in a relationship with both men sharing O in a physical way. She claims to love them both equally but has a stronger emotional bond with Ben. The sad fact for O is that Ben and Chon rely more on each other than her. The script has been accused of being a feeble attempt at post-modernism due to O being named after the protagonist in the novel The story of O (1954 ), about a female sex-slave who submits to a number of men and is merely a sexual object, and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a female character who is controlled emotionally and sexually by two different men (her father and Hamlet) and is chastised by men in general. The film raises the question, through O and Elena, of whether women can have their cake and eat it too, can they have a family and a career? The answer according to Mr.Winslow and Mr. Stone is no, so in this respect I see why certain critics demolished the movie in its entirety.
Both the acting and directing has also been rebuked by many critics for this not-so-masterpiece, however, casts don’t come much bigger and more diverse than this. John Travolta and Salma Hayek contrast with the younger generation of budding actors in Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. They are all brought into one creative concoction by Oscar winning director Oliver Stone. I’m not of the same apocalyptic view of that this is the end of all things great in the career of these stars but admittedly this is not award winning stuff. Furthermore, the ending leaves a sour taste in the mouth as it is a classic Hollywood cop-out but if you want a fun watch with your friends then you can’t really go wrong…..unless you read too much into it that is.
My Rating: 5/10