Savages (2012) is “like a fucked up Robin Hood” according to Taylor Kitsch’s character, Chon, in Oliver Stone’s thriller. With that very sentiment, the much-lauded director’s latest effort is summed up in more ways than one with its bloody, violent, and albeit, long-winded attempt at exploring a somewhat tired plot trajectory. Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon are close friends who share the love of the beautiful and seemingly carefree, Ophelia (Blake Lively) – or O as she’s lovingly known – but in a crux their friendship is tested. On the surface, Ben is the intelligent, caring, gentle and thoughtful one, while Chon, a war-veteran, is anything but.
However, when their hugely successful skunk-growing operation becomes the object of a Mexican drug cartel’s affections, putting O’s life on the line, the layers are peeled back revealing two men who are not that different at all, and willing to do whatever it takes to get back the one thing they love without question. With a trio of lead characters played by three reasonably fresh-faced nippers, Stone has wisely chosen to balance the books by utilising the experience of a strong supporting cast to bolster his film, with John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek playing a threesome of self-motivated, individualistic and cold-blooded characters.
It would be fair to say that this balance in casting plays a big part in making the Stone’s film worth its two hours and twenty minutes, and is some testament to the respect Stone commands as a director. With the bloody and grisly beheading of four nameless men and subsequent shots of a beach marking the film’s openings, we are introduced to the voice of Lively’s O – no doubt a device to help navigate the film’s unnecessarily convoluted plot. The deliberate shift in momentum established between scenes of violence and brutality, fast-paced action, and slow-paced, introspective narration makes Savages seem like an ageing director’s attempts to stay relevant, rather than simply entertaining an audience.
Despite abundant clichés in the scripting of its narrated scenes, and its overly complicated plot, Stone’s film is, at times, quite gripping, and its clear that through his direction, he has gotten the best out of the likes of Kitsch – who, regardless of the project, tends to always play a variation on his Friday Night Lights character, Tim Riggins – and Lively, who, until now has been unable to pick up a big part in any major release. Where the film is a real success though, is in the cold and callous performance of Del Toro – audiences will long for the demise of his character, Lado.
While Travolta, as the rogue DEA agent Dennis, and Hayek as the head of the aforementioned Mexican drug-cartel both give good performances, despite a respective lack of depth to their characters. Savages is a little overdone. However, some better editing and/or stronger character development would have made it a gripping, relevant and energetic thriller.