So much of Oliver Stone’s Savages boils down to a tale of lost potential. There’s a love triangle that never gets tested, an upstart in the Mexican cartel whose greatest moment is lost to narration, and two bland anti-heroes who don’t really capture your attention. Every time Stone builds up a tense scene, he cuts the adrenaline in favor of a stoner melodrama. There are even a few bizarre, cartoony cut scenes mixed with bobble-head sound design – both of which feel ripped right out of a bad SNL sketch.
The Savages Blu-ray release contains two versions of the film, the theatrical version as well as the unrated edition. Scenes get a little more time to breath in the unrated edition, but sadly Savages misses the mark in gangster flick infamy.
In Savages, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are high-class marijuana businessmen. Chon is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. He’s the hot-tempered muscle of the business. Ben, by contrast, is the hippie botanist, who has managed to create a strand of marijuana with 33% THC levels – that’s exceptionally high (pun). The two share O (Blake Lively) as a mutual love interest. When Ben and Chon decide to defy the Mexican Baja Cartel, which wants to absorb their business, Elena (Salma Hayek) – the cartel boss – has O kidnapped. Now, the two Californian pot dealers must get bloody to get back the girl they both love.
The movie never tests the boundaries of this perpetual threesome. Unlike most love triangles, this group has no problems sharing. There are moments when Elena suggests that Ben and Chon love each other more than they love O, but the theory never plays out. As O states early on in the narrative, Ben and Chon are two halves of the same person.
Unfortunately, most of the movie centers on their relationship. The film was billed as an action thriller, yet the lackluster melodrama always gets in the way. Stone will paint a grotesque scene from the ensuing drug war, only to cut away to bland conversations and relationship drama.
There’s even a moment where Elena and O develop a mother-daughter bond that seems force-fed. It’s sad because those action scenes are so beautifully dark. The film has too many large gaps between the blood spattering on masks, explosions and torture sequences.
It would be fine of those gaps were filled with the cartel drama instead of Lively’s lifeless narration or some other half-hearted conversation needlessly tacked on. The actual cartel drama is excellent to watch, but key characters are pushed aside in favor of the threesome. John Travolta plays Dennis, a corrupt federal agent working with Ben and Chon. Benicio Del Toro plays Lado, a gardener by day and psychopathic killer for the cartel by night. We never truly explore the depths of either Dennis or Lado’s corruption. And both characters lose their best moments to narration at the end of the movie.
Savages gets a little cartoony at times, when gruesome scenes sit on a comical sound bed. Right away, you’re zapped out of the drama and wondering why you’re hearing all the Looney Tunes sound effects. There are also random cartoony animations mixed into threatening videos from the cartel. It’s a little silly. Also, just like The Muppets, sometimes these characters travel by map.
The Blu-ray release comes with deleted scenes as well as five behind-the-scenes featurettes. There are a few interesting quotes from Stone on why he chose to focus on the relationships. He also discusses Don Winslow’s novel, from which the movies was based on. However, overall the BTS featurettes sound more like quick sound bites with very little substance.
Savages missed the mark on entering the ranks of gangster movies like Scarface or Carlito’s Way. There were a handful of great moments from the California-Mexican drug war. However, instead of focusing on the thrilling side of the genre, Stone opted for the relationships – which weren’t particularly interesting.