(Crime thriller, R, 130 minutes)
Drugs, money, crime and brutality mark “Savages,” a film directed by Oliver Stone and based on the 2010 book by Don Winslow. Those familiar with Stone’s films such as “Natural Born Killers” and “Platoon” know of his gritty directing style, so what better person to execute this crime thriller than this Oscar winner?
But be warned: This movie is extremely graphic. The characters are ruthless, and Stone is unforgiving in his depiction of their wrath.
Friends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) run a marijuana business in California. Chon, an Iraq veteran, has a hardcore approach to life while Ben is more focused on philanthropy. Nevertheless, the business thrives and they share the profits — as well as O (Blake Lively), who narrates the violent tale.
When problems arise in the business, Chon usually solves them by any means necessary. However, the Baja Cartel, a major drug ring based in Mexico, wants to add more products and revenue to their own efforts. They won’t take no for an answer, and a brutal video serves as a warning for a negative response.
Although Chon and Ben also have protection from the authorities, albeit in the form of a dirty cop, Dennis (John Travolta), the Baja Cartel seems to be powerful than everyone.
Dennis tells them their options are to take the deal or choose death. Instead, the pair tries to skip town with O. Their plans quickly change when she appears bound, gagged and bleeding on their computer screens. From here, it’s a savage story of time, money and life-or-death decisions.
Salma Hayek portrays Elena, the head of the Baja Cartel. She is menacing, heartless and cold-blooded — easily the best part of “Savages.” Although she is based in Mexico and her team wreaks havoc stateside, there is never any doubt as to who is in charge.
Laro (Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro) moonlights as a landscaper, killing people inside while his workers blow leaves outside. Alex (Demian Bichir) also takes part in calling the shots — literally and figuratively.
As powerful as these men are, they cower by the mere mention of Elena’s name. In the midst of violence and murder, it’s surprisingly entertaining to watch her emotionally and physically tear them down. However, things are never what they seem.
Even with an ensemble cast and varying twists and turns, “Savages” still maintained its intensity. It spans a little more than two hours, and the images will haunt you after its over.
Although Hayek, Del Toro and Travolta’s performances were expectedly powerful, the younger stars managed to keep up with them. Kitsch’s third time was the charm after failing with “Battleship” and “John Carter.” His character was relentless in everything that he went after, and Kitsch made it believable. Lively proved she is more than just a pretty face on the TV show “Gossip Girl.” Although Johnson is not as well known as the others, he held his own in this film. Although his character, Ben, seemed to be weaker than Chon, he turned out to be strong when it counted.
Overall, Stone has crafted an intense film that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The juxtaposition of characters and their lies and truths will keep everyone guessing until the very end.By Davia L. Mosley