A sunburnt film noir awash with the golden glow of the California coast and the crimson carnage of the Mexican drug cartels, Oliver Stone’s crime drama Savages throws a lot at the wall…and not all of it sticks.
This adaptation of acclaimed crime author Don Winslow’s novel aims to replicate the book’s jazzy, jittery prose with a cinematic approach that’s equally bold and striking.
However, it just feels a little busy, as if it’s working overtime to convince the audience of its own intensity.
But with a so-so story and a gallery of characters that just aren’t that interesting, Savages ends up wearing itself out long before a slightly tricky climax that just might erase any good will it may have accrued with its viewers.
There are savages galore in Savages, but the central characters don’t really start out that way.
Long-time friends Ben (Aaron Johnson from Kick-Ass) and Chon (John Carter’s Taylor Kitsch) are respectively the brains and brawn of the biggest marijuana operation in sun-soaked Laguna Beach.
Biology whiz Ben uses his know-how to create primo weed and funnels the bulk of his profits into humanitarian projects in Third World countries. Ex-military badass Chon keeps the peace by putting the squeeze on anyone looking to muscle in.
But even Chon may be facing more than he and his well-armed buddies can handle when the Mexican cartel headed by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek) sets its sights on the duo’s business.
Elena and her sadistic henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) aren’t taking no for an answer, and to guarantee compliance from Ben and Chon they kidnap O (Blake Lively), the beloved girlfriend of both men.
Bad move. Because they’ll do whatever it takes to get O back, even if it means sinking to the same level of savagery as their adversary.
One of the main problems facing Savages is that the trio of heroes isn’t all that compelling. Kitsch has the odd flash of steely fury and Lively does what she can with a truly unworkable character but Johnson is something of a blank.
There’s more spice in the supporting performances, especially Del Toro’s loathsome Lado and John Travolta’s double-dealing lawman.
But Savages is mostly a half-empty display of sound and fury, directed by Stone with professional panache but only a fraction of the berserk passion he brought to the table in his heyday.