Savages (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A big mess in their lucrative crime business

There are always troubles waiting at corners in criminal business, and Oliver Stone’s “Savages” presents us the ruthless sights in the barbarous war between the criminals you won’t particularly like. Only reason we may care about our main characters is that they are relatively lesser evil compared to the savage underworld figures they are dealing with, and I have lots of doubt about their morality, but the movie tells their brutal story with considerable energy and dark black humor to be appreciated.

The story is told to us through the languid narration of Ophelia(Blake Lively), who is just called “O” in short. She narrates the story of her and other two guys she loves, and it sounds as if she were in the euphoria of marijuana – or she were looking at what kind of mess they were in from her afterlife. She warns us in the beginning: “Because I’m telling you this doesn’t mean that I am alive at the end.”

She and Ben(Aaron Jonhson) and Chon(Taylor Kitsch) have enjoyed their carefree life thanks to their lucrative cannabis business. So far, the life has been simple and good to them. Ben has two college degrees in botany and business, and he knows a lot about how to grow marijuana. Chon is an ex-marine who have been to Afghanistan, and he brought the valuable cannabis seeds from that country. Ben and Chon have been close since their high school years, and they are ideal business partners who perfectly complement each other in their business in Laguna, California. Ben, who is influenced a lot by Buddhism, wants his business as peaceful as possible while he diligently manufactures the first-class product for his distributors and customers. But they need sometimes muscle in some occasions, and their annoying matters are quickly handled by Chon, a tough, intense guy who has no qualms about intimidating criminals by any means necessary.

And O happily goes back and forth between them as she enjoys the luxury in their life including a nice big house facing the sea. Their triangle seems to work on the surface, but, though they care about each other, their acts are closer to a balancing job rather than a serious relationship. Well, that does not matter to them much, because they see no problem in their relationship and, above all, everybody is happy with their mutual paradise on the Earth.

But their paradise is built on their crime, and, not so surprisingly, a bigger evil starts invading into their paradise. They receive a very disturbing video through e-mail, which shows a bunch of guys brutally beheaded with chainsaw. It is sent from the Baja Cartel in Mexico, and its boss Elena(Salma Hayek) wants to get in their cannabis business. First, she proposes a rather generous offer to Ben and Chon through her lawyer Alex(Damien Bichir), and, when they do not accept the offer instantly, she orders her sinister enforcer Lado(Benicio Del Toro) to give them a ruthless offer they cannot refuse.

Maybe because they have been on the top of their business so long, Ben and Chon make a big mistake of underestimating these savage criminals who will do anything to get what they want. They think they can handle their situation, but they unwisely let O to go outside even though they are clearly aware of their danger. O is no wiser than them; her reason for going out for a while is so superficial that you have to hear for yourself to believe what she says.

It will not be a spoiler to talk about what will happen next, but let’s say the story gets more complicated and more violent as more characters are introduced in this deadly conflict. Ben and Chon do the best as they can to save the woman they both love, but the circumstance becomes trickier as the time goes by. They can trust some people, while they cannot trust the others much. In case of Dennis(John Travolta), an FBI agent they have paid bribery to protect their business, he is willing to deal with both sides while trying to find a way out of this mess as he realizes that his FBI badge does not always guarantee his safety.

Oliver Stone is well known for his hyperkinetic approach in many of his famous works, but “Savages” is less showy compared to them. Black and white film and overexposed film are occasionally used through the movie to accentuate the dramatic points in the film, but the story is told with comic detachment even when it gets nastier. The interactions between characters are handled in interesting ways, so we have an amusing scene where a captor and a captive have a nice talk about their respective personal lives even though their positions remain same as before.

While Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, and Taylor Kitsch do competent jobs as the business partners who are not so serious about their personal relationship for enjoying it, the supporting performers surrounding them give more colorful performances with their juicier roles. John Travolta is having a ball as an untrustworthy FBI agent, and his best moment comes when he desperately tries to convince the other character that he is still too useful to be eliminated. Benicio Del Toro is both sleazy and menacing as a savage criminal with his ruthless band of workers who are always ready for disposing bodies, and Salma Hayek is strangely sympathetic as the boss who will do anything for the future of her organization – and her family.

One critic in South Korea harshly said the movie shows Oliver Stone past his prime. It goes without saying that he recently made several dissatisfying works in the last decade, but Stone has not lost his talent yet, and “Savages” is an enjoyable crime thriller although I felt an urge to check out the novel written by Don Winslow, who co-adapted his novel with Stone. You may be not so pleased about its attitude at the ending, but the movie is twistedly humorous enough to make that flaw acceptable at least during viewing, and I like that.

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