Savages (2012)

Director:  Oliver Stone
Cast:   Aaron Taylor-JohnsonTaylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Demian Bichir.
Plot:  Pot growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  -
Runtime:  131min
Rating:  R21 for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout.

It started here in paradise, Laguna Beach, where they say God parked himself on the seventh day, but they towed him on the eighth.”

Oliver Stone has somewhat been in a professional decline over the last decade or so. He reached the nadir of his career with the ambitious biopic Alexander (2004), a lavish affair that was also painfully abysmal. Can anyone remember what was his last great film?

If Savages is anything to go by, it is an excellent indicator that the Oscar-winning writer-director of such memorable films as Platoon (1986), and controversial ones such as JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994), is back in business.

Don't expect too much from Savages though, but it is heartening to see Stone expressing himself in ways that is reminiscent of the hyper-kinetic, visually dazzling style that characterized some of his earlier works.

Stone draws some of the energy from the subject matter that the film explores - the lucrative drug business in Central America.  And of course, its collateral effect on those involved.

Violence and torture is the name of the game here, and Stone, as uncompromising as he is, does not try to hide the sadism and gruesomeness in some of the scenes. In fact, Savages will hit you in the gut with the vomit-inducing sight of decapitated heads of nameless souls in the prologue. Never mess with the Mexican druglords.

However, two Americans played by Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, 2012) and Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass, 2010), whose characters run an independent drug enterprise, decide that enough is enough when their Mexican rivals kidnap their shared girlfriend, played by the gorgeous Blake Lively (Green Lantern, 2011), and threaten to slowly torture her to death if demands are not met.

Despite above-average acting by the lead cast, and the brutal violence, Stone is still able to make some riveting cinema. What he manages to achieve successfully is his astute handling of tone, in this case, a playful, almost nonchalant one that somewhat lends the film a fun, positive vibe amid the suspense and terror.

Savages also mixes an eclectic soundtrack, supervised by his long-time collaborator Budd Carr, which gives the film energy and rhythm. Despite clocking more than two hours, Stone's film remains to be one of the more entertaining, high-paced films of the year.

The climax, which I will not reveal in specific detail, does a Funny Games-esque reversal of fortunes for the lead trio, which may frustrate the film enthusiast, but delight the mainstream moviegoer. Has Oliver Stone gone soft? Maybe, but Savages is no doubt a return to form for a filmmaker many feel has lost his Midas touch.

Verdict: Oliver Stone is back in business in this brutal crime drama about drug cartels that is also flashy and entertaining.


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