Director Oliver Stone is back with “Savages,” a crime thriller set in the world of violent drug cartels. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly magazine filed the following review.
“Savages” is Oliver Stone doing what he should have done a long time ago: making a tricky, amoral, down-and-dirty crime thriller that is blessedly free of any political relevance.
The movie is about two marijuana dealers in Laguna Beach who run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel and it has absolutely nothing to say about undocumented immigrants, the war on drugs or anything else. Yet you can feel how alive Stone is to the material. He stamps every scene with his darkly combustible cinematic personality.
“Savages” is grandiose underworld pulp staged with screw-tightening skill and a taste for nasty kicks that spills over into sadism and dread. It’s like a jacked-up “Miami Vice” told from the point of view of the criminals.
The film is narrated by Ophelia, a free-spirited blonde played by Blake Lively who lives with two drug dealers and serves as their anything-goes boy-toy goddess and muse. Taylor Kitsch, wiping away any “John Carter” cobwebs, is the tougher of the two, a scarred hunk of an Afghanistan war vet, and Aaron Johnson is his best friend and business partner, a wispy-bearded, nihilist hippie. The two went into the drug game with a crop of prime marijuana seeds smuggled back from Afghanistan.
But then the cartel comes calling, sort of like a vicious corporation going for a hostile takeover. Our heroes are too arrogant to know who they’re dealing with and so the gangsters, led by Salma Hayek, kidnap Ophelia and place her in a dungeon.
“Savages” is violent enough to risk turning off a portion of the audience. Yet the movie uses its grisliness for suspense, as Kitsch and Johnson have to descend into savagery themselves.
Stone gets terrific performances from Benicio Del Toro as a very scary sociopath and John Travolta as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent up to his ears in slime.
Exciting as it is, “Savages” does slide off the rails in its last half hour. The movie goes from intense to indulgent. Yet it's still a pleasure to see Oliver Stone settle into this dark groove.