In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, director Oliver Stone proudly claimed that "grass is God’s gift" and that "California makes the best in the world." Apparently, he's looking to prove both of these statements true in his newest film, "Savages."
Based on the Don Winslow book, "Savages" follows two California pot dealers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ben and Taylor Kitsch as Chon) who get mixed up with the Mexican cartel. Along for the ride is a dirty DEA agent played by John Travolta, a wig-wearing drug lord played by Salma Hayek, and Benicio Del Toro as a terrifying yet comical cartel assassin. There's also a whole bunch of sex, guns, blood, torture and, of course, marijuana.
So how does the film as a whole hold up? Let's find out in this week's PRO/CON.
PRO: Benicio Del Toro
The last time Del Toro had this much fun in a movie was 2005’s “Sin City,” as the abusive cop Jack Rafferty. In “Savages,” Benicio once again plays a psychopath. Here he's Lado, the right-hand man and go-to assassin/kidnapper of Elena (Salma Hayek). Not only does he make a terrifying antagonist, Del Toro has most of the movie’s best lines (including a ridiculously entertaining conversation between him and Travolta’s Dennis, where the word “think” is pronounced over and over again).
PRO: Benicio Del Toro’s mullet
I mean, just look at this thing.
CON: Blake Lively
It’s hard to have sympathy for a character/narrator who doesn’t look or sound the least bit concerned when she gets kidnapped by two drug dealers. As Ophelia, Lively is supposed to be the voice of the film -- the one telling the story. Instead, she manages to kill its momentum any time she shows up. (Also, listening to her analyze Shakespeare's “Hamlet” is as painful as it sounds.)
PRO: John Travolta
We’re not sure if watching Travolta as Dennis, the DEA agent bankrolled by pot dealers, is entertaining because he’s actually doing a good acting job, or because Travolta attempting anything serious has now (sadly) become a bit of a novelty. Either way, we’ll take it.
CON: The narration
The narration -- provided by Lively -- that pops in and out of “Savages” doesn’t so much tell the backstory as it does slow it down.
PRO: Oliver Stone back to being Oliver Stone
From beheadings to torture to gratuitous drug use, Oliver Stone hasn’t been this Oliver Stone-y since “Any Given Sunday.” (And like “Any Given Sunday,” Stone makes sure to include a detached eye scene in “Savages”; although this one was caused by torture, not football.)
PRO: Salma Hayek
In “Savages,” Salma Hayek plays Elena, a raving lunatic and leader of a Mexican cartel. She enjoys fine dining, having her enemies (or anyone who disagrees with her) tortured and killed, and talking to almost everyone via online video conference. (A 21st-century criminal!) Sure, Hayek may not be all that frightening as a cold-blooded murderer, but her performance is still fun to watch.
CON: Eye-rolling dialogue
Between Lively’s Shakespearean references and lines like “He doesn’t have orgasms, he has war-gasms,” the film's dialogue was in desperate need of a creative kick -- especially when it came to the “romance” between Ophelia (Lively) Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). (Maybe the writers could have benefited from some of "God's gift"?)
CON: Shameless self-promotion
Do you know that this movie is called “Savages”? Well, don’t worry if you forget it, because the characters will make sure to remind you by uttering the word “savage” as often as possible, going so far as to actually quote its dictionary definition.
PRO: Emile Hirsch
In the film, the 27-year-old actor plays a bike-loving Californian named Spin (yep!) who speaks in surfer and launders Chon and Ben’s drug money. Sounds good, brah.
PRO: Bringing the drug war to the big screen
Like most Stone movies, “Savages” is completely over-the-top (which is part of the reason it’s so entertaining). However, with this film, more mainstream viewers will get an idea of the violence that's been happening near the border.