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Savages: Cruel, Crippled, Primal

Updated on December 26, 2017
Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson)
Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) | Source

(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?

O (Blake Lively) with Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson)
O (Blake Lively) with Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) | Source

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.

Elena Sánchez (Salma Hayek)
Elena Sánchez (Salma Hayek) | Source
Release date
July 6, 2012
Oliver Stone
Shane Salemo, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone
Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, Benicio del Toro
131 minutes
Box office

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+

Lado (Benicio del Toro)
Lado (Benicio del Toro) | Source

Savages Official Trailer


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    • Prisana profile image

      Prisana Nuechterlein 20 months ago from Thailand and Colorado

      There are some great lines in this film...."There is something wrong with your love story." The females are strong players.

      I think we all have the ability to be savage in nature depending on the circumstances of a given situation. My husband turned savage within seconds when confronted by a crazy man who entered our apartment years ago and woke my husband up by saying, "I'm crazy, are you crazy?" The intruder was on his knees staring at my husband while he slept.

      My husband woke up and thought, this guy either has a gun or a knife so my only chance is to scare the shit out of him so he shouted: "YOU BETTER FUCKING BELIEVE I'M CRAZY!"

      The drugged out trespasser bolted for the door, with my husband chasing after him with an ax.

      I was thankful that my husband was savage enough in nature, to protect me from the creeper, who we later found out was a neighbor. The police caught him within 4 minutes of my 911 call.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Oliver Stone is a mixed bag for me. Some great films and others not so great. This was precisely a mixed bag for me. It was fun, but like you said could've been better. Thanks for your comment!

    • JamieHGarrett profile image

      JamieHGarrett 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I was surprised at how not good this film was. It wasn't bad, but definitely not as good as his other films. I guess that what happens when you're really great at something, people expect a lot. And the ending, disappointing. Still better than a lot of movies.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      There's an old English rule that implies so, but it isn't conclusive. Also, according to many modern English writers and authors, that isn't the case anymore. R.W. Burchfield says in "The New Fowler's Modern English Usage" (1996) that beginning a sentence with a conjunction is a "useful aid to writers". Other writers say that beginning a sentence with a conjunction can "lend impact or emphasis to the sentence".

    • profile image

      Crimsonfalcon 4 years ago

      Why do you start sentence with conjunctions that's bad grammar?

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      It's not the entire story, but hence the spoiler warning at the beginning of the hub. My intent was to make more of an overall analysis of the theme of the film than a proper review. Sorry if I spoiled anything for you though, and thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      Anu Kaul 4 years ago

      By telling almost the entire leave little to the imagintion....having said that...I feel stone is showing the very human element in all of us....vulnerability, fear, anxiety. These feelings and emotions fuel our behavior. No one can be placed in a box, then labeled savage. Stripped of concepts and is regressing to aprimal stare of reflects our nakedness.

    • IslandBites profile image

      IslandBites 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Good movie. Benicio is a great actor.

      Nice review!

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Thanks for your comment, epbooks!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Wow - this sounds interesting! I may have to see it soon. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Thanks for the comment, Angie!

    • Angie Martin profile image

      Angie Martin 4 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      I just recently watched this film and I was genuinely surprised at how good it is. I was also happy to see no in-your-face political tones, like you mentioned. I like the way you break down the many ways the title is reflected in the movie. I also agreed that the dual ending was a bit odd, and that Benecio Del Toro stole the show! Great hub - voted up!