Savages is Oliver Stone revisiting war a full 27 years after the Oscar winning existential crisis tale of a son torn between conflicting father figures in Platoon. This war is domestic war between feuding drug dealers and catrels. Using the flavour and iconography of California and Mexico City cartels, Stone paints a portrait of America so committed to the inevitability of self-destruction and excess that it evokes despair and hopelessness.
Los Angeles drug dealers Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) have built a profitable and increasingly legitimate drug business servicing the legalized pot dispensaries around Los Angeles – that is until the Mexican Drug Cartels (Benicio Del Toro & Salma Hayek) move in. When the boys decide to offload their business instead of partnering with these ‘Savages’ the cartels kidnap their shared love O (Blake Lively), and trigger conflict.
Lively’s O plays narrator and centrifugal force that unites the divergent philosophies of Ben (Johnson) and Chon (Kitsch). It’s no longer the youthful intellectual of Chris (Charlie Sheen) providing an insightful inquisitive perspective of America. In the 21st century it’s the California blonde bombshell capitalist who balances these forces with fornication. Lively convincingly finds symmetry between the oblivious, vapid spoilt shopaholic and the suffrage and trials of kidnapping and torture.
Johnson plays Ben as an idealist and optimist progressively quashed by the events of Savages. Johnson’s an emotional litmus test for the film; as he’s corrupted he drags you to a desolate place. Kitsch’s Chon is battle scarred and damaged from war and relishes the opportunity to employ his skills. Kitsch is charming even when he’s unhinged. Their union figuratively and literally juggles the best and worst of the American identity. Instead of the Elias (Dafoe) and Barnes (Berringer) battling for our (Chris’) soul – this time around their paired motivations compliment and mutate each other’s intentions.
Benicio Del Toro gleefully embodies the filthy and morally abhorrent Lado who deals out death, assault, and rape like confetti off of a parade float. However, Salma Hayek’s cartel matriarch really misses the pitch and was distractingly weak amongst the large but stoic performances of the other players.
Oliver Stone’s grown no less cynical about the human condition. Optimism has been drained from proceedings. Some of Stone’s characteristic frenetic editing and cross cutting is present, but age has brought a steadier less controlling hand. Savages isn’t a satisfying experience that will have you whistling a diddy as you exit the cinema. Stone’s refined the point that war is senseless hell from Platoon and it stings harder this time; no-one escapes untainted. Stone’s style may have waned but the nihilism, brutality and futility of noble pursuits seethes from this controversial and cynical senior maverick voice.
Savages is Platoon’s dystopic future realised. Everything’s bigger and brighter but the sadistic sociopathy of this war remains hellish.
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: and and Oliver Stone
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta
Savages is released in Australia on the 27th of September and 28th of September in the U.K. It was already released in the U.S.A on the 6th of July 2012.