Look at Oliver Stone's career from one side and you see a string of celebrated classics. Platoon. Wall Street. Born on the Fourth of July. The Doors. JFK. Natural Born Killers. Impressive. Look at his 21st century career, however, and it paints a different picture. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. W. World Trade Center. Alexander. A couple mediocre films. A few disasters.
Welcome back, Oliver Stone. Savages is his best movie in 20 years.
Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson star as Chon and Ben, two men who have developed a lucrative and generally peaceful marijuana business in Laguna Beach. They share a beautiful girlfriend named O (Blake Lively), and life is good. But a Mexican drug cartel wants their business, and they'll do anything - including decapitation - to get what they want. O is kidnapped and held for ransom.
Chon and Ben decide they won't play friendly.
Savages is a violent, intoxicating thriller that revels in its craziness. It's a movie that shouldn't work, that is so absurd in some ways that few directors could pull it off without disastrous results. Who makes a movie where two men are willing to share Blake Lively? A movie where two men can, believably, go up against an entire cartel and get away with it? Where sex, violence and drugs bleed into each other, figuratively and literally?
The movie is sexy, in more ways than one. It begins with two separate sex scenes, Lively getting slammed by hardened Chon, then made love to by Ben. Lively exudes raw appeal throughout the production, but her performance is less artificial than, say, Megan Fox in Transformers. Lively has talent beyond her looks, and Stone gets the best out of her. The film is visually sexy, too, a colorful explosion of bright palettes. Even the grisly murders play into Savage's allure.
Savages is also painted with unique, intriguing characters, built upon strong performances. For Kitsch, third time's the charm. Coming off two mega-disasters with John Carter and Battleship, the actor is awesome and the best part of the movie. Johnson is terrific as his partner in crime. And the supporting cast play their parts well with energetic and absurdly entertaining performances, from John Travolta as a corrupt federal agent to Benicio Del Toro as a ruthless cartel enforcer and Salma Hayek as a drug kingpin.
Savages is one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012 so far, though "pleasant" isn't a word that should be used to describe this movie. It isn't for everyone, but it is an excellent piece of filmmaking and one of the best movies of the summer.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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