Whenever a film is set in California, all the characters are all ridiculously attractive, glowing, and healthy looking. The supporting cast, people they pass by on the beach or stand next to at a bar are all beautiful. Now, this begs the question, is California really full of such sun-drenched specimens of human perfection, or is it a con of some kind to get us all to visit? Well, in the world of Oliver Stone’s Savages, that is probably not something that concerns them too much, as they have a Mexican drug cartel to deal with.
Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) live a fairly idyllic lifestyle, growing the finest weed known to man and living in a beach-front mansion with their joint-girlfriend, the beautiful Ophelia (Blake Lively). As Ophelia explains in the film’s slightly cringe-worthy opening scenes, she loves them both, and they love her and each other. While Ben is a peaceful semi-Buddhist with a major in business and botany, Chon is the hot headed, ex-Iraq and Afghanistan Navy Seal. Yin and Yang. Bert and Ernie.
But their particular brand of marijuana has garnered a reputation and the Mexican Baja Cartel want in on it. At the head of the cartel is Elena (Salma Hayek), a tempestuous lady, not adverse to violence and intimidation. Her right-hand man is Lado, played by Benico del Toro with sleaze turned up to 11. He is the guy who she sends to conclude negotiations with a bit of force if her terms aren’t immediately agreed to.
So far it all sounds faintly ridiculous doesn’t it? Well it is, but then this isn’t meant to be anything remotely cerebral, it is based on the book Savages, by American crime writer Don Winslow. It’s page turning, don’t stop to think too much stuff, and that is exactly how the film is paced. Before you’ve had a chance to wonder why even the computer hackers, people that in reality spend most of their life in a dank basement of their parents house, are all attractive too, it’s moved on to the next scene. Or before you’ve had a chance to consider it a bit odd that Chon seems to have a team of crack Navy Seal snipers to call on at any time of day, to cover him if he so much as pops down the shop for a pint of milk, onwards we march.
Despite the fact that not one of the characters really draws a great deal of empathy from the audience, there are some fun performances in there. The aforementioned del Toro sports a great mullet to compliment his endlessly learing, shifty demeanour. The matriarchal fear that Salma Hayek instills in her male underlings is entertaining. And of course, she may be a mildly pyschotic cartel overlord, but first and foremost, she’s a mother.
del Toro sports a great mullet to compliment his endlessly learing, shifty demeanour
John Travolta’s crooked law enforcer shares some of the film’s few moments of actual human pathos, and he delivers some slickly scripted lines with a refreshing vigour which we haven’t seen from him in a while. Although it is more exciting to stare at his prominent eyebrows which appear to be trying to make a break for it, perhaps picking up his peculiar goatee amidst their bid for freedom.
Not to suggest that director Oliver Stone might have mellowed a bit since his eighties heyday, making classic films such as Platoon and Salvador, but he really might have mellowed a bit. This is entertaining, but ultimately throwaway fare, that struggles to leave a lasting impression. What with young carefree American drug dealers getting involved with foreign drug cartels, it seems like a retelling of a story we’ve been told before. Still, at just a little over two hours, it never feels overly long, because it is a story that is told well,looks good and keeps you hooked.
Savages is in UK cinemas 21st September