Put on some clean slacks, set another place at the table and break out the good wine – no, not that one, the Malbec – because Oliver Stone is back. Remember Oliver Stone? The firebrand director and social commentator who ripped our entire culture a new one in Wall Street and Platoon? He was kidnapped and replaced by his less irascible twin six years ago, only peeking his head out of his homemade fort to make the strangely apologetic W. in 2008. The good Oliver Stone has finally burst out of seclusion, naked and brandishing a homemade shiv to bring you Savages, a brutal, exciting motion picture that compensates for its lack of overt relevance with a heaping helping of kick-ass.
Based on the novel by Don Winslow, which I haven’t read (god, that’s becoming an annoying mantra), Savages professes a sordid tale of crime and violence in the modern world of drug dealing, both legal and otherwise. Taylor Kitsch from John Carter and Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass play a pair of entrepreneurs who smuggled marijuana seeds from Afghanistan, did some botanical mumbo-jumbo and churned out the finest strain of weed in the world. Their pot is so good that it attracts the attention of a Mexican cartel led by a particularly excellent Salma Hayek, who makes them an offer that, strictly speaking, they are not supposed to refuse. When they refuse anyway, their girlfriend gets kidnapped, placing the heroes on the long road to revenge.
Not a typo, that: “their” girlfriend. Three-way romantic relationships, particularly positive ones, are a rare beast in the world of cinema (or anywhere else for that matter), and Savages joins the less-than-illustrious company of Tintorera: Killer Shark and Barry Levinson’s Bandits in its attempt to break a conventional Hollywood mold in a genre movie. Their girlfriend, The Town’s Blake Lively, loves Kitch and Johnson equally, but the unique situation brings about its own set of unique problems. Jealousy, miraculously, is a non-issue, and Savages is certainly sex-positive, but the question is raised whether the Kitch and Johnson care about each other more than her. Since hey… why else would they be willing to share the woman they loved?
That particular, unusual breed of character depth makes Savages more than your typical crime film, revenge saga, drug war movie or action flick. The cast is peppered with notable talent – Benicio Del Toro and Demian Bichir among them – whose characters make decisions and express emotions alien to any of those genres, even if they’re filling out traditional roles like “Lead Thug” and “Skeezy Laywer.” Pettiness, weakness, moral compromise and impudence are exploited throughout the film, and even the smallest characters are presented in such a human way – monsters though some of them are – that their often-inevitable deaths still come across as shocking.
Oliver Stone has a tendency to whack you over the head with his message. Remember the bleeding steak in Nixon? We get it, Ollie. That’s America. Here, his subtext isn’t so much muted but reflecting by the simple choice of subject matter. The drug business is a bit of a stand-in for the economy, with the small-business owners exploited and nearly ruined by their “corporate” competitors. But even that’s just surface. Savages is a crime film first and foremost, benefitting from the extreme but thankfully purposeful stylings of a none-too-subtle director and a witty script with a few surprises up its sleeve. I laughed, shouted and gripped my seat through the whole film, pleased as punch until the copout twisteroo ending that doesn’t quite ruin the movie, but ends it on a cheesy, unbelievable note. It’s amazing that any ending would seem unbelievable after the fireworks display of audacity that preceded it, but by god, Oliver Stone pulled it off. At least he’s still a nutball. Sit back and enjoy it.