‘Savages’ has so much star potential and a solid story that it could easily have been one of the best movies of the summer; unfortunately it fails to reach its full potential as it gets lost in all the twists and it doesn’t take itself seriously. Controversial film director Oliver Stone uses a not so original setting in the world of drug dealing and turns it into an almost dark comical action thriller, where cold-blooded dealers are gossiping coworkers that easily fool one another. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, a movie that has so many characters and that tries to fulfill too many genres most likely will fall short to what it tries to accomplish.
Best friends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) lead a successful marijuana producing business in California, they each bring something different to the table, which is what makes their partnership unbreakable. They also have a love triangle with their girlfriend O (Blake Lively) who keeps them balanced and creates this unusual family they all need. Their picture perfect life gets disrupted when the powerful and violent Mexican Baja Cartel wants part of their business’ action. The Cartel’s fierce leader Elena (Salma Hayek) runs her operations from her living room, commanding her right hand Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and her lawyer Alex (Demián Bichir). Not sure what to do, Chon and Ben consult a dirty DEA agent, Dennis (John Travolta) who’s helped them run their business without getting caught. A savage war breaks out when both teams try to outsmart one another.
Del Toro is just the perfect person to play a bad guy and the audience easily begins to hate him by his actions and behavior. Although Bichir’s part is miniscule, it’s very important and he plays it well despite of the film almost mocking his character, he’s still able to come out unharmed. The problem with Hayek wasn’t her performance, as it was great to see her play such a strong, powerful character; the problem was the script as it decides to show her as someone gullible and that’s hard to believe having seen what kind of person she is.
Kitsch has had a tough year with ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship’, he has a lot of talent and it shows here but at times the script does fail him, but he’s able to overcome it. Johnson gives the film a good balance, as he’s one of the few pacifistic characters and it is quite refreshing. Lively is the weakest link here, as she’s doesn’t have a lot of say and gets used over and over again. Although the narration by Lively helps the film, as she’s able to give background information, at the end the narration starts treating the audience like idiots and it takes away from the film.
Stone made some great casting choices as he combined veteran stars such as Travolta, perhaps Stone’s political angle in the film, with the three main young actors, which quickly have come to be known in Hollywood. Stone shows his capability as a filmmaker mixing in shots of black and white as well as beautiful sceneries and bloody scenes.
The film is based on Don Winslow’s novel and this might be the reason why it becomes over dramatic, ironic and comical at times; those were the biggest flaws of the film. The actors gave it their all despite of the script failing them at times. Unfortunately when it begins to have funny scenes and ridicule the characters who have earned the audience’s respect it undoes what it’s done. The film tries to overcompensate with violence but it doesn’t succeed. I expected so much more from this movie but it drowned in a pool of mediocrity as much as it struggled to keep afloat.