Entrepreneur Ben and his best friend Chon have one of the premiere marijuana grow-ops in North America. Along with their shared girl friend O (short for Ophelia) they live comfortably and luxuriously. After the Mexican Cartel makes them an offer that the two men turn down, O is kidnapped and held until they agree to the deal. Ben and Chon being smart and resourceful begin concocting a plan that will get O back on their terms.
Savages begins with a narration from Blake Lively’s O and things get off to a rocky start, with some turbulent dialogue that does little to help establish O as the most important character of the film. There is never a sense of urgency in her words, especially when she says the line “Just because I’m telling you this story, doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it.” The narration continues to feel stagnant especially when the visuals are more than capable of showing the same thing she is saying. O remains the point at which the plot develops around, but as the film progresses she becomes less of a necessity and more of a liability.
It is everything else that seems to blend together just right for the R-Rated film. Very much intent on showing the ruthlessness of the Drug Cartel, Savages pulls no punches when it comes to violence, showing everything from brutal drawn out torture to quick and efficient murder scenes. Oliver Stone tries to balance the ruthlessness of certain characters, while completely reversing it for others. Del Toro’s Lado is bent on being a badass as he is involved in most of the scenes of brutal violence. Lado also becomes very much a contrasting character, where at times he was deadly with his words, and others times they played for awkward humour with his character. It felt at times as though his scenes with O were for filler space to simply remind us that there is something bigger on the line than just drugs.
With-in the mix of the over the top characters are Ben and Chon. Aaron Johnson’s Ben is the laid back of the two wanting to avoid the violence when it first happens. What really saved Savages a lot of the time was watching Aaron Johnson precisely show the right amount of anger, determination and fear. Ben was forced to go from confident and quiet to dangerous and determined and that fit really well with the situation being portrayed. Chon, played wonderfully as well by Taylor Kitsch started the film a hard ass and remained that way through-out, never questioning what needed to be done in order to save their love. Kitsch’s Chon delivered dialogue about accepting the idea of being able to fight for survival, and not since he portrayed Kevin Carter in The Bang Bang Club has Kitsch given a portrayal that really captures the essence of the character.
Savages ultimately is an enjoyable film, where the small imperfections are easily forgiven because it is really just another simple film. There is no real connection with any character other then Ben or Chon, and for the sake of a film that at times is merely just violent for the sake of it, that is a good thing. As the film progresses it seems like the characters and who they are as people becomes irrelevant. The writers could replace these characters with any character of the same formulaic nature and it still would have been the exact same thing. That is not to say the actors didn’t do a good job, because they did. This fault is primarily on the writers. Savages definitely is not a stand-out in drug related violence films. Nothing about Savages is very hard-hitting. It tries awkwardly to be political and shift the focus to corruption within politics and police work, but ultimately that becomes just another plot line that is executed with no real urgency or pay-off.
Spoiler Alert, the quote mentioned above becomes something different entirely near the end of the film. It becomes a what-if scenario, a mere fantasy idea of the ending based on the fact O is telling the story. It does come to a conclusion that is very lack-lustre and predictable for all the characters involved, which is just one more reason why Savages is not a stand-out film.
If you are into violent R-Rated flicks, Savages is a film worth checking out. Stay for the acting and the R-Rated violence, leave when you expect it to get deep and impactful because that is the one thing it never becomes.