Good, Bad & Ugly Review: Savages

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 50% (Critics) / 77% (Audience)
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Shane Salerno, Don Winslow and Oliver Stone
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta
Studio: Universal Pictures

Synopsis: Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben (Johnson), a peaceful and charitable Buddhist, and his closest friend Chon (Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry-raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia (Lively). Life is idyllic in their Southern California town…until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena (Hayek), and her brutal enforcer, Lado (Del Toro), underestimate the unbreakable bond among these three friends, Ben and Chon-with the reluctant, slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent (Travolta)-wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel.

The Good:
Two performances really stood out for me in Savages. Benicio del Toro was a skeevy delight as the thuggishly boorish enforcer, Lado. From his look (especially his bouffant/mullet combo hairstyle) to his mumbly speech patterns and physical ticks…Del Toro brought a lot of subtext to this character that could have come off as completely one note.
Salma Hayek really surprised me as Mexican drug cartel queen Elena who alternated between steely malicious mob boss and sympathetic, lonely mother dealing with empty nest syndrome and a disapproving, distant daughter.
Daniel Mindel’s cinematography also made this movie look really good.

The Bad:
I felt nothing for the polyamorous threesome at the heart of this movie. I didn’t get why they would be together in the first place (aside from the purely physical reasons) and I never saw the strong love and loyalty between Ophelia and Ben and Chon and the connection was even less apparent between Ben and Chon themselves. There was a lot of talk about their bond in the film but it never materialized for me.

The Ugly:
That ending was very humdrum regardless of what version was real.

Final Verdict: An Oliver Stone film that really didn’t feel like an Oliver Stone film to me. The relationship that was the focus of the film never felt true and the stakes never felt nearly as high as all of the violence and bloodletting should have made it seem. The performances by Del Toro and Hayek helped keep things interesting but not enough to recommend people drag themselves to a movie theater to witness it for themselves. C

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