Monday, July 9, 2012


Oliver Stone is back in the director's chair taking on Don Winslow's novel Savages about the dark world of the drug cartels.  Even though there are some differences between the movie and the novel, the movie works well on screen bringing the feeling and the essence of the novel to life.

The story centres around three characters O, Ben and Chon.  O is the love of both Ben and Chon's life and the three are tied to each other by close bonds and the love for one another.  Ben and Chon are friends for life and make the best pot money can buy.  Chon is ex Navy Seal and is the loose canon of the group.  he would rather kill than be the person that eventually gets hunter then killed for doing what they do, a take no prisoner kind of guy.  Ben on the other hand is the pacifist of the group.  He has taken his money from the drug trade and started his own save the world foundation and business.  He helps impoverished third world countries bring clean water to the thirsty, getting food aid to the hungry, he is the ultimate humanitarian.  O, is the free spirit and she loves both men equally.  Things start to go bad when O is taken prisoner by the Baha Cartel.  Ben and Chon take it upon themselves to make a deal with the Cartel to get O back safely, they are looking to get out of the drug business any ways so they can start a clean energy company.

The novel is very graphic and brutal.  Don Winslow crafted a very engaging story of the world of sex and drugs.  It's a hard novel to put down, and in some cases  for the squirmish, read.  The movie follows the novel well, diverging here and there to make it it's own version of the story.  The biggest part being changed is the ending.  In the novel of course there is one ending, but in the movie there are two.  Let me get to that in a minute.

Gossip Girl's Blake Lively plays the sexual un-inhibited O, short for Ophelia.  She is the love of both Ben and Chon.  She's a free spirit of a lady and has her own way of looking at the world, but also knows what she wants.  Lively gives one of her best performances of her career since The Town.  She has definitely come a long way since Gossip Girl and is proving to be a hot commodity in Hollywood.  In certain circles she's not the most well liked actress in Hollywood, I think those people can't get past the Gossip Girl years to see that there is a good actress that one day soon will come into her own.  With this and The Town she already shown she can handle herself well in the harder roles to play.  Lively does a lot of narration throughout the film because a lot of the story is told through her characters voice.  She handles the narration fine, only stumbling in a few scenes.  Overall she portrays the character very well and was a good choice to play O.

Ben is played by Aaron Johnson, who some may remember from Albert Nobbs but most will remember him as the character Kick-Ass.  Johnson is usually good in any role he is in and the role of Ben is no exception.  He brings the calmness and level headedness needed for this character who later does go a little off the rails near the end of everything, but given the circumstances it shows that we are all a little "savage".  Nothing oscar worthy from him here but it is a solid performance none the less.  He proves also that he is capable of handling any type of character given to him and expect to see great things from this young actor as well.

Chon, who's character's real name is Johnny is played by Taylor Kitsch.  A wonderful actor from Canada who just hasn't had much luck lately with blockbusters.  The last two movies he was in, Battleship and John Carter didn't really explode the way there were expected to at the box office, but none the less Kitsch has proven time and again in these movies that he is a good solid actor.  In Savages he fit the part of Chon well and having read the book I couldn't picture anyone else playing the role of Chon.  He has the look, the persona to play that hard nosed loose canon character that Chon is.  Deep down Chon is a sensitive soul, and we see that through the wonderful portrayal by Kitsch, but what we also see is the loose canon, kill or be killed side as well.  He is a character that you would not want to cross and Kitsch steps up and gives a rock solid performance in this movie.  He is another young actor to watch.  He's done well with what he has been given and steps up his performance with each new movie.

Benicio Del Toro, who we haven't really seen since The Wolfman is back in top form playing the crazy Lado.  He gives one of the creepiest performances of his career and makes you feel uncomfortable watching the character on screen.  He is a pleasure to watch him do his work and makes you feel that you never come across this guy in your travels.  Del Toro turns up the evil for this character but never plays him over the top. He keeps his craziness and sleasiness grounded and believable.  He is a character with no redemption and plays him perfectly as the cold blooded killer he is.  To me it was one of his best performances since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the movie Che.

John Travolta plays DEA agent Dennis.  He gives a good performance as Dennis in Savages.  He doesn't have a lot of screen time but he works well when on screen.  It's a typical DEA character and Travolta is your typical Travolta.

Salma Hayek brings the level of humanity needed to make the character Elena believable on screen.  Elena is a two tiered character.  One tier is her love for her family and life, the other tier is the business woman who must keep the cartel people in line.  She's ruthless but also a mother first and foremost.  I'm not usually a fan of Hayek's but she turns out a wonderful performance as Elena.  She brings not only the strength needed to show for this character but the human side as well.  The character is conflicted in her life as a mother and a leader and Hayek was a good choice to bring in for the role.

It's good to see Stone back in the director's chair again and he does a great job with Savages.  In this movie this is Stone being Stone with the brutal showing of violence, sex and visceral film making.  He does great work in helming this film but it is not his best work.  He  love changing film stock through out and using speed up slow down techniques which work well and are not over used in this movie.  Where I have to knock him hard on with Savages is the ending.  He gives you this perfect way to end the movie which is more in line with the book but then reverses the film and retells the ending he wants to tell which I felt was a cop-out.  The way he handled the ending was terrible and in a way hurt the over all tone of the film when it gets to that point.  I think if he did ending 2 first then reversed to ending 1 as the real ending it would have been such a powerful impact and worked so much better, or just had the credits rolling when the camera was pulling back at the end of the first ending.  This is a brutal story and through out the movie it is shown  brutal and to just deflate everything with the ending he went with just did not sit well.  One thing Stone is known for is putting out different cuts on DVD so maybe when this hits DVD he will have another take on the ending which works better.  I`ll give Stone props of bringing the book to life on screen but have to slap his wrist for what he did at the end.

I absolutely loved the book and I would suggest it to anyone that is looking for something different to read.  The novel is written in a unique way that it combines the writing styles of novel writing, prose writing and screenplay writing.  Don Winslow has a hit with the book and should be happy overall with how the movie turned out.  I definitely recommend this movie alone on the performances of the up and comers as well as Del Toro`s performance.

I give this movie 4 stars out of 5.  Not fully a masterpiece but one hell of a ride.  The novel may be better but the movie definitely does it justice, just not the ending so much.

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