The perfect Stone-r flick


on June 29, 2012 by Pete Hammond

savages.jpgOliver Stone returns to his comfort zone in this blood-soaked, sex and drug-fueled ride that returns the three-time Oscar winner to territory he mined so successfully in past films from Scarface to Natural Born Killers. Recent projects like his Wall Street sequel or inspirational 9/11 drama World Trade Center might have implied Stone has lost his touch for balls-to-the-wall action dramas. Not so. He almost seems energized by it all—and it works. In fact, Savages is one of Stone's best movies with a ménage et trois love story giving some human dimension to its three young leads, potheads who run a simple, safe weed growing and selling operation. It doesn't stay safe for long: a Mexican drug cartel thinks their talents will be very lucrative for the baddies just south of the border. Call it an offer they can't refuse. Superlative performances from a veteran supporting cast and expert direction by Stone make this the perfect "Stone-r" flick for adults who seek strong, no-holds-barred action without a single superhero in sight. As summer counter-programming, Savages could rack up some nice numbers despite being forced to live in the shadow of Spider-Man and Batman.

Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson play a pair of Laguna Beach pot growers romantically involved—together—with Blake Lively's soulful O, a pure-bred California beach girl they both love and would do anything to protect. That passion comes in handy when a take-no-prisoners Mexican drug cartel chieftain played by Salma Hayek decides these guys are right for her business model and has her henchman Benicio Del Toro kidnap their girlfriend so the boys don't try anything tricky. Things get even more complex when looney DEA agent John Travolta—a crook who's been bought and sold by dealers for years—reluctantly has to play peace-maker. The stakes, and the body count, soar.

What makes Savages work so well is a solid script courtesy of original book author Don Winslow, plus screenwriter Shane Salerno and Stone himself, lest we forget the director won his first Oscar for writing Midnight Express, another drug-laced tale about an unassuming young American forced to use all his wits to survive. Stone also happens to be an exceptional director and the visual palette, breakneck pacing and almost effortless style of the film can be chalked up to decades of experience in turning out this kind of hard-R character-driven thriller. As with a lot of Stone's work, Savages can go way over the top, even pushing into (intentional) comedy, especially in scenes with its most veteran co-stars Hayek, Travolta and Del Toro. The three are all at the top of their game here, completely compelling as they swing for the fences. Hayek in particular gives her villain real gravitas and even a bit of empathy in her tense relationship with her own daughter.

The young lead trio are all very fine. Lively, also the narrator the story, proves she's still one to watch as she transitions for TV to Hollywood, while Johnson (Kick-Ass) is moody and sensitive and Kitsch—who recently had back-to-back starring roles in the bombs Battleship and John Carter—finds redemption here with a tough, no compromise performance that bodes well for his future. Scoring points in brief roles are Emile Hirsch as the money man of our pot dealers and recent Oscar nominee Demian Bichir as another stern cohort of Elena's.

Like it or not, Savages is great screen entertainment: a tough, violent, brutally thrilling movie not to be missed. Oliver Stone is back where he belongs.

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Benecio Del Toro, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bichir.
Director: Oliver Stone
Screenwriter: Oliver Stone, Don Winslow, Shane Salerno
Producers: Moritz Borman, Eric Kopeloff
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for strong, brutal grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout
Running Time: 130 min.
Release date: July 6, 2012

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Tags: Savages, Oliver Stone, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Damian Bichir, Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Scarface, Natural Born Killers, Wall Street

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1 Comment

  • BoxOfficeWeekend on 05 July 2012

    We really feel for Taylor Kitsch. In our opinion, Savages will not score a top 3 finish. Taylor should known better than to pick three flops in one year The three movies are too cliche. The same knockoff movie plots trying to bank on Avatar, Independence Day, and now A Man on Fire.

    Oliver Stone is upside down on his Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, which apparently the movie did sleep its way to a lousy $52 million in the domestic box office on a $70 million production budget.We doubt he is in his comfort zone. His Alexander movie tanked too, making only $34 million in the U.S on a $155 million budget. Luckily, the movie performed well enough in the international box office to make a surplus.

    Stone's past Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon, and Wall Street are epic. The Savages storyline with Lively playing two guys that somehow agree to get her back in A Man on Fire rage makes this ride another over-the-top mess like the Hitchhiker remake.

    Your plot summary in the second paragraph is enough to reject this movie. Two "Laguna Beach pot growers" is already showing signs of a flop. Selma Hayek as a drug cartel boss is too much to handle. This actress is too beautiful to be savage. Every time we watch her, we will think back to her From Dusk Till Dawn bikini role. Benicio lost his edge soon after earning his Academy Award.

    In our opinion, this Savages movie will flop like the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers did in the Finals. Taylor recently responded to his flopping ways. Instead of showing confidence that his movies would do good, he shares it may be a blessing in disguise to not be attached to the projects the next 10 years. Does that mean he gave less of a performance to get out of the projects?

    Confident actors inform their fans that it's unfortunate the two movies failed to garnish interest because I really believed in them enough to give what I think are my two best performances. You have to address failure as a winner.

    Battleship and John Carter are major movie flops. We're not sure of Savages' production budget. Battleship is more than just a bomb. On a $209 million budget, Battleship makes a lousy $25.5 million in the domestic box office. That is an epic movie disaster.

    We are starting the Team Taylor movement to help this actor get rid of his flop status. Go watch Savages. If couples get bored, women can focus on the two leads and guys can have fantasies about Blake and Selma. Hope Savages survives the weekend.

    . . .

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