Polyamory, especially the male-heavy variety, tends not to be a common theme inside of the ScreenGeeks remit, although I understand there are plenty of websites that do cater to those sorts of film fans. As the world of American politics moves beyond a joke, Oliver Stone seems to have separated himself from his political preoccupations almost entirely, in order to sink his teeth in to some good old-fashioned depravity. Based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Don Winslow, Savages is a straight up crime movie of the sort we don’t tend to see enough of these days.
The ultimate cannabis-growing odd couple of Ben and Chon (Johnson & Kitsch), the ex-marine with a chip on his shoulder and the archetypal west-coast stoner – inexplicably both experts in botany – are leaving the game. Their exit strategy involves selling off their business to a Mexican Cartel, and eloping with their shared girlfriend, Ophelia (Lively) to Indonesia, where they will live out their days creating clean renewable energy. Of the various disciplines within the drug world, the cannabis industry is probably one of the less glamorous. Having a hundred-million dollar weed empire somehow doesn’t raise a bad guy to czar status in quite the way Cocaine so instantly does. All the same, the cartel does not respond well when Ben and Chon attempt to do a runner. They send their top guy, Lado (Del Toro), to kidnap the dastardly entrepreneurs’ beloved Orange County slacker of a girlfriend, Ophelia.
Del Toro is an absolute joy to behold as the over-sensitive, double-crossing snake of a man, oscillating between indignant martyrdom and pure venomous spite. His characterization is spectacular from script to screen, made all the more astonishing by the complete flatness of all the others. Taylor Kitsch’s character, Chon, comes out with some stinking one-liners and his heavy handed post war-zone jitters are clichéd beyond a joke.
There are some fantastically crafted moments of tension and, despite some prerequisite crime genre twists, the plot moves along nicely. There were even times that I genuinely found myself squirming in my seat. But it tends to be a problem when you’d quite gladly watch any of the films three protagonists be shot in the head, without too much trouble. The stakes aren’t, therefore, particularly high. If the worst comes to the worst in this story, then two rookie drug lords will lose their ill-gotten gains, and maybe their spoilt brat girlfriend will be decapitated. But somehow that doesn’t feel like the end of the world. We never really learn anything about their unconventional ménage a trois. It’s never explored, so can’t be justified or condemned. It just happens to be that the way that the main characters roll, which is fine.
This film takes a broad look at savagery. Are the Mexican Cartel any more savage than the shopping mall owners of Southern California? I don’t know, probably. But that’s the sort of questions it’s raising, anyway.