Cast: Chon (Taylor Kitsch) O (Blake Lively), Ben (Aaron Johnson), Dennis (John Travolta), Lado (Benicio Del Toro), Elena (Salma Hayek), Spin (Emile Hirsch), Alex (Demiαn Bichir)
Director: Oliver Stone
Theatrical release: 07/06/2012 DVD Date: 11/13/2012
Rating: R Running Time: 131 minutes
Note(s): Adapted by Shane Salerno, Oliver Stone, and Don Winslow from Winslow's 2010 crime novel of the same title.
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Review: This adaptation of Don Winslow's crime novel a book I have not (yet) read failed to engage me on several levels, not so much from the screenplay itself, which is admittedly a little thinly plotted, but from some odd choices (presumably) made on the part of the director.
The story is simple: Ben and Chon the brains and the brawn operate a boutique business selling the highly quality marijuana in Southern California. It's small and has escaped notice by the authorities mostly because the two entrepreneurs are paying off a DEA agent, Dennis. But the business hasn't escaped notice by the Baja Cartel, led by Elena, who offers to "participate" in their success by simply skimming 20% off the top. (There's a subplot here about political change in Mexico that threatens her business, hence her need to move north. It isn't explained very well and presumably is intended solely to set up the triple-double-cross to come, which itself isn't explained very well when it occurs.) Chon wants nothing to do with the cartel, but Ben, who wants to devote the rest of his life to humanitarian and social issues, offers a counter-proposal: give them the business outright. Elena recognizes that the business wouldn't be nearly as successful without Ben and Chon as it is with them, and refuses their offer. Instead, she kidnaps O as leverage, intending to keep her as a hostage for one year while Ben and Chon work to integrate their business with hers. Ben and Chon are outraged and execute a plan to rescue O at any cost.
Given how thin the plot is, much of the success of this film is dependent on casting, most of which is okay if not exactly inspired Ben and Chon are fine as are the senior members of the Baja Cartel but O is either completely miscast or, more likely, completely misdirected. Everyone in this film is a user to one degree or another, if not of drugs then of each other, but O is probably the worst of the lot. A spoiled rich kid, she contributes absolutely nothing to the partnership or to anything else in life, for that matter. She admits she's not an intellectual or have any business sense; she doesn't just do recreational drugs, she's addicted to them; and she has no people skills whatsoever. It's hard to appreciate everything that's going on when she's such an unsympathetic, even unlikeable, character in the first place.
Then there's the pacing of the film, which is choppy at best. For what is purported to be a tense action crime thriller, there's actually very little suspense generated. And then there are the amateurish cutscenes that insert an odd assortment of images by way of transition. I suppose it's intended to be stylish, but it sure doesn't come across that way. There are a number of (gratuitously) graphic and brutal scenes that had no business being here. Finally, there's the ending. I'm not sure what to say here without spoiling too much, but the ending may be one of the most disappointing elements of an already disappointing film. I will admit I didn't expect it, but that's faint praise indeed.
Savages needed a less heavy-handed approach; a little finesse would have gone a long way here. It's not an altogether bad film, but it's easy to see how it could have been a much better one.