Savages: Cruel, crippled, primal
(This review includes spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film, don't read anymore)
What really makes someone a "savage"? Is it just the lack of civilization and culture? or a more ferocious, wild behavior? Dictionaries also define it as "lack of manners" or "not under human control". Oliver Stone's most recent film, precisely titled Savages, offers us examples of most of these. Whether it's the ruthless leader of a Mexican cartel (Salma Hayek), her vicious enforcer and right-hand man (Benicio del Toro) - who tortures and decapitates rivals with a chainsaw - or a pair of high-end drug dealers (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) that freely live, love, and have sex with the same woman (Blake Lively).
During the film, characters use the term "savages" to refer to their respective rivals, while seeing themselves as "better people". Best buddies/marijuana growers Ben and Chon (Johnson and Kitsch) consider their Mexican rivals as such, after witnessing a video where Lado (del Toro) mercilessly decapitates several people. Lado, on the other hand, can't understand why two men would want to share their woman. Ben and Chon, who are at the top of their drug business in Laguna Beach, California, actually have a mutual relationship with Ophelia, or simply "O" (Lively). This is why she is the one kidnapped when they reject an offer of "partnership" from cartel leader Elena Sánchez (Hayek).
But their love relationship is not the only "savage" trait in the pair. Chon is actually an anger-filled veteran who hits first and talk later, which makes him the perfect enforcer for their drug business. Ben, on the other hand, is a practicing Buddhist who uses his drug money for charity work. But, in a recurring theme on the film, he is forced to become more savage as the film progresses to help rescue their kidnapped girlfriend. His arc begs the question, are we all savages in nature? do we all resort to our hidden savage instincts when a circumstance warrants it?
In yet another instance of "savage" nature, O is kept in a cage-like room, where she lives, more or less, like an animal. In retaliation, Ben and Chon kidnap Elena's daughter. This revelation, near the climax of the film, turns the usually stoic and cold Elena into a more human character. Her daughter is the only thing that keeps her anchored to a natural lifestyle, and seeing her captured and bound, strips her of control, power, and beauty.
Other characters in the film are Elena's accountant (Demian Bichír), whose torture and murder by the same cartel underlines how "savage" they are; and corrupt DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta), whose own flip-flopping between alliances could be seen as some sort of "savage" behavior, particularly from a federal agent.
July 6, 2012
Shane Salemo, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Benicio del Toro
Unlike other films from Stone, Savages is a fairly straighforward film with little to no obvious, in-your-face political undertones. This actually serves the film well, since Stone's penchant for forced political jabs has, sometimes, harmed the end results. His direction is also more sober and natural than other efforts of him. I don't think the use of narration was effective, and the dual-ending was awkward, and more of a "cheat"; but I still can say I enjoyed the film.
All in all, the film doesn't break new grounds and isn't particularly memorable, but it's still a fun and intense outing. Most of the performances are solid, but the highlight comes from del Toro's wickedly vicious performance. He steals every scene he's in, and makes them enjoyable, despite his disgusting demeanor. Does that make me a savage? Grade: B or B+
Savages Official Trailer
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