Savages is the most contemporary film I’ve seen all year. It’s smart, graphic, playful, and messes with its viewers. Director, Oliver Stone, plays with different film stocks in a way that builds the sense of reality while producing a raw and gritty feel without being distracting. He and his talented team of co-writers have created a film that both men and women can love.
Before I get started let’s just have the most crude and basic synopsis there is: Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are each other’s polar opposite, best friends, and lucrative business partners in Laguna Beach, California. They run a home-grown multi-million dollar marijuana grow up from stolen Afghanistan seed, producing weed with a THC reading that’s 10x stronger than any other. These two are in a licentious love triangle with the beautiful Ophelia, or “O” (Blake Lively), and all three live together in a perfect utopian harmony… That’s until a Mexican Baja drug Cartel moves into town, steals O, and leaves Ben and Chon desperate to save her. The two leap into a journey doing everything in their multi-million dollar power to get O back— hopefully alive.
Though we see O getting banged to bits the film is in no way pornographic. Yes, we some bums and Ophelia’s orgasmic facial expressions, but usually the film’s edited into clips that leave effective suggestions of what’s going on.
What surprised me is how effective the gore and other disturbing content (no spoilers in this review) are. I enjoy war/combat flicks and have no problem watching operations on TV while eating; this film got to me. Savages had me almost cringing and conflicted between looking away versus not (since I didn’t want to miss any of this awesome film)… Sometimes I even felt like it was going too far; now that I’m out of the cinema, I’m happy about that.
Humor and Depth
Despite all of the graphic content Savages is really funny, and not in the common look(!)-I’m-being-funny type of obnoxious humour that has been taking over Hollywood. This film is clever. At points my friend and I weren’t even sure why we (and apparently everyone else in the cinema) found particular moments so funny—they just were!
A lot of humour comes from the soundtrack. Serious, vicious, and savage plot points are built up to upbeat and very non-dramatic or serious music. The background beats are somewhat happy and playful; and that’s funny. This contradiction is appropriate since the characters probably have some high dose THC lingering in their systems throughout most of the movie.
The script (Shane Salerno, Oliver Stone, Don Winslow) is very intelligent. It’s funny without being stupid-funny and pushes itself in surprising ways. I was never 100% confident in what would happen to the characters, how they would react, or how the film was going to end. The movie actually tricked most of the audience; leaving people laughing in disbelief, anger, and frustration. Finally, the script also offers some very good character development. It particularly develops Ben, unfortunately Chon stays relatively one dimensional.
I think its worth acknowledging that while O is a character we’re all too familiar watching Blake Lively do (poor-little-vulnerable-self-destructive-rich-girl that all the boys love), Blake manages to make a character independent from her acting portfolio. We’re not watching Serena van der Woodsen, not even for second. Koodos to Blake.
Savages is a must see movie that is hopefully an indication of where the film industry is heading. That being said, it’s not for those who are queasy; it fully earns its R-rating for “brutal violence and substance abuse”.
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