If you take Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro and John Travolta and put them into a movie directed by Oliver Stone, it is almost guaranteed to be good. I went into Savages expecting a good movie. What I got instead was a really good movie. Savages was exciting and suspenseful through the film, and the story kept going down unexpected paths.
The story concerns two young pot growers named Chon (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter) and Ben (Aaron Johnson, Nowhere Boy), who have been friends since high school. When the movie begins, they are running a large, successful business growing high-quality marijuana. They are also both involved in a three-way relationship with the same woman, Ophelia (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl), who goes by the moniker of O to avoid reference to her Shakespearean namesake. Narration at the beginning of the movie is provided by O, although she cautions us that just because she is telling the story does not mean that she is alive at the end of it — “It’s that kind of story.”
Ben and Chon are two very different people – Ben is a gentle hipster who majored in business and botany, who provides the knowledge and day-to-day management of their shared cash crop. Chon, on the other hand, is a veteran of several tours in the Middle East, a hardened killer who also provides a supply line of top-quality seeds from Afghanistan along with the muscle needed for the operation. The pair are contacted by Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek, Dogma), representing the Baja Cartel, wishing to partner with Chon and Ben. When the young men decide against a partnership, Elena sends her own muscle man in the form of Lado (Benicio del Toro, The Usual Suspects), to kidnap the men’s girlfriend. Chon and Ben decide to move on the Cartel in order to rescue O, and to do this, they must engage their marginal relationship with a crooked DEA agent named Dennis (played by John Travolta), dragging him unwittingly into their drama.
Like last week’s Moonrise Kingdom, excellent performances are delivered by a world-class group of actors. The one tiny criticism I had as far as the characters or acting go was that it felt to me that Travolta’s character of Dennis was written a little to similarly to his character of “Deak” Deakins in Broken Arrow. Of the relative newcomers Kitsch, Johnson and Lively, the weakest performance in my opinion was that of Blake Lively as O. Still, she was more than passable in the role.
Stone’s directing was everything we have come to expect from the director of JFK, Natural Born Killers and Born on the Fourth of July. The cinematography, provided by Daniel Mindel (Star Trek (2009)) was superb. The soundtrack was perfect in nearly every scene.