D. OLIVER STONE
Oliver Stone returns to the drug business with his Southern California beach noir adaptation of the Don Winslow crime novel of the same name (Winslow also co-wrote the screenplay). The result is probably Stone's most entertaining movie in a decade or more, but is still not without some major flaws. But the film is so awash in beautiful scenery, and plenty of forward momentum it is easy to get caught up in the ride.
The story deals with a trio of pot growers and also full time lovers. Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the Soft heart, hippie agriculturist of the trio. The brain who studied botany and perfected the specialized herb that has made them the millions they have. He travels around the globe spreading the wealth to the underprivileged. Cho (Taylor Kitsch) is the muscle, an ex Marine, back from two very violent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scarred by the war both physically and mentally, he takes the business side very seriously. He is more animal than man most of the time. Finally there is Ophelia, (Blake Lively) O for short, the woman that loves them both, and they both love her. She is the glue that binds them all together. The three of them live in a Southern California bliss, happily selling weed, and trading each other off with no jealously at all. The perfectly progressive family for the 21st century.
Until the Mexico drug cartels come calling. Salma Hayek plays Elena, the drug Kingpin (clearly based on the famous Cocaine Madam of Miami) who wants the boys to reinvent her business with their product and growing know how. When they refuse and intend to run, she has Ophelia snatched and held captive. The intent to be she will be her captive for a year while they set up shop for her, then Ophelia will be set free and they will take a hefty cut in profits for disobeying. They boys know this is not going to work and going to war is probably going to be the best bet in winning back the love of their life.
So begins a viciously violent thriller that delivers on most of what it promises. The first 30 to 40 minutes of the movie as near picture perfect. Especially the setting up of the relationship between the three of the leads. We get to know the boys especially well and understand what it is about them that Ophelia sees in them and why the threesome approach works for her. There is a terrifying opening scene involving an internet video and multiple decapitations that is not easily forgotten as well as a sequence that introduces Benecio Del Toro's character Lado, an assassin for Elena that brings the title of the movie into sharp focus.
But once Ophelia is captive the movie begins to drag a bit. The boys spend a lot of time trying to figure ways to get her back and the movie spins around more than it really should. There is a fantastic heist sequence that is bloody, brutal and fucking LOUD. But most of all takes time out to remind you the cost of human lives.
But the movie slowly loses focus as it runs into the third act. Ophelia sort of never really rises to become a clear focus of the material the way she should. She gets one great scene where her and Elena have dinner and discuss the people in their lives they love. But mostly she just kind of whines and wimpers about her situation. As the movie progresses we clearly see why SHE loves the boys. They are everything she claims them to be in her narration that peppers the film. But we never get to really understand what it is about HER that makes them so crazy in love with her, that they are willing to risk their lives, to tear down their own empire to save her. Her character seems kinda of one dimensional compared to them at the end of the day.
Then there is the issue of the ending. Of the two endings actually. Neither of which actually conclude the film in a satisfactory way. The film actually has a shoot 'em up climax that is semi-satisfying, then ends with a Romeo and Romeo and Juliet death pact, then literally backs out of it to give us the "real" ending where everyone lives. Bad guys, good guys, supporting players, everyone. The whole thing feels weird and like a cheat. Problem is that the movie leading up to that point has been a journey for the two boys, especially Ben who has learned to give up a significant part of his humanity to save her. To have a happy ever after undercuts the point.. I have not read the book, but I would be curious to know how the book ends and if it is like the movie at all.
Even with all this in mind, I still quite enjoyed the film. The acting is good, and Stone's direction is slick and back to the heavy saturation, crazy editing of U-TURN and NATURAL BORN KILLERS that I love so much. His politics are not as hit you on the head blatant here, but the pro-pot stance is loud and clear. SAVAGES is a very entertaining film. It just could have been a great film with just a little more effort.
Review © Andy Copp