Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Emil Hirsch
Running Time: 131 minutes
Extras: None other than the extended version
Oliver Stone has a chequered career: PLATOON, JFK, and ANY GIVEN SUNDAY sit uneasy next to misfires W, ALEXANDER, and WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS. His latest, SAVAGES, based on Don Winslow’s novel, is a contender for his most fun film yet.
Blending up-and-comers Kitsch, Johnson, and Lively with seasoned pros Travolta, Del Toro, and Hayek is a shrewd choice by Stone. Kitsch may be tough to take seriously at times due to his constant frowning, but the cast work well together and bounce off each other nicely. Stone is, as usual, heavily involved with the script, co-writing with novelist Winslow and Shane Salerno, and in spite of the many cooks, it’s a very cohesive screenplay, weaving the multi-stranded story together perfectly. And whilst the narration by Lively misses the mark, it is necessary (with a little polishing it would have been fine). Where the film will draw criticism is ironically one of its highlights – Benicio Del Toro. Playing the part of Lado, a deeply unpleasant runner for Salma Hayek’s Elena, Del Toro is the film’s star by a long way and much of his dialogue is borderline hilarious. So, what’s the issue? Well, he’s a rapist, murderer, and ultimately the film’s prime antagonist, exemplifying everything heroes Ben and Chon stand against. Fortunately Del Toro plays it right, i.e. over the top, and he sits comfortably within the general tone of the film. There are some viewers however, who may deem the character’s portrayal as offensive.
Set in California and Mexico, Stone utilises the locations to spectacular effect, ensuring each shot is filled with enough sun-drenched beauty to make the average Brit sick with jealousy. What is perhaps missing is the gritty side – we are, after all, dealing with the drugs trade, and there is the risk the negatives are downplayed (well, totally ignored). But then Oliver Stone has never been one to go with the grain. And if he were to portray potheads badly, it would be slightly hypocritical given his well-publicised penchant for marijuana.
Towards its climax SAVAGES is as sharp as a tack – particularly when Travolta’s DEA Agent and Del Toro are on-screen together – and there is even a nice little twist, of sorts, which only adds to the fun tone of the film. SAVAGES will not set your world alight with its originality but it’s something often missing from cinema these days – a purely enjoyable way to spend two hours. It won’t appeal to everyone but SAVAGES does pretty much everything it aims to do, and crucially those aims aren’t too high (although Stone may well have been during production).