With a double degree in botany and business and the tough-guy chops of an ex-Navy SEAL just back from Afghanistan, Ben (Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Kitsch) have realized their California dream: they run a thriving “independent” cannabis enterprise out of beautiful Laguna Beach. Getting high on their own supply is part of the lifestyle, but bongs and joints are not the only thing cordially passed back and forth between the two. There is also their shared girlfriend O (Lively), who enjoys the sexual yin and yang of the war-damaged soldier and the gentle wannabe hippie (“Chon fucks, Ben makes love” she quips). But invariably, growing the world’s best weed attracts attention, and soon Mexican cartels come knocking on their door to demand their piece of the pie. Before long, the trio’s dream world is spiraling into a nightmare of terror and violence.
Adapted from a bestseller by Don Winslow, who has researched the War on Drugs in depth, and following a run of topical, politically outspoken films by its director, one would hope that Savages had something relevant to offer about what is currently going on south of the US-border, where narco-violence has claimed over 50,000 casualties since 2006 alone. The grisly opening scene – a facsimile of a videotaped mass execution for intimidation purposes – certainly raised expectations. But Savages is about the Mexican Drug War like Inglourious Basterds is about World War II. Reality merely provides the color palette for over-the-top gore and larger-than-life villainy, all glammed up into “irreverent” entertainment. At least Benicio del Toro and John Travolta are openly enjoying themselves as walking clichés of depravity.
Ethical squeamishness aside, Stone’s latest is a fast-paced, hallucinatory thrill ride that sometimes stumbles over its own cleverness and feigned hints at substance. Only near the very end is any remaining ambivalence about its core motive removed, as Savages embraces its true identity as pure, mirage-like camp.
Savages | Directed by Oliver Stone (USA 2012) with Blake Lively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch. Starts October 11