Oliver Stone has long been one of my favorite directors. He can handle pretty much any genre, but the darker side of humanity has always drawn his attention and produced his best films. He handled war in Salvador, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July. History with Alexander, JFK, Nixon and W. Media with Natural Born Killers, Talk Radio and drama with Wall Street, The Doors, Any Given Sunday and World Trade Center. With his new film, Savages, Stone takes on a more mainstream thriller storyline, but definitely gives the film his own signature style.
Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a peace loving, charitable surfer. He also runs a huge business making the best weed in Southern California. He is partnered with Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL and the strong arm of the business. They are both in love with Ophelia (Blake Lively) and she is in love with them. Their relationship is unique but harmonious. When a Mexican Baja Cartel wants to buy out their business and have Ben as a consultant, all Ben wants is to sell it and retire. But cartel leader Elena (Salma Hayek) does not like to take no for an answer and kidnaps Ophelia to get what she wants. But Elana and her enforcer Lado (Benecio Del Toro) may have underestimated Ben and Chon as they wage war against the entire cartel to get the love of their lives back.
In any other director’s hands, Savages would play out like a fairly typical drug trade thriller. The performances are top notch across the board, with particularly great performances by Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson. You cannot see the kid from Kick Ass in Taylor-Johnson’s performance at all; he is totally transformative here and makes Ben into a very enigmatic character. The same goes for Kitsch, who portrays the hardened and deadly Chon. Kitsch had the bad luck of both of his blockbusters in 2011 fail at the box office (John Carter and Battleship) even though they were both pretty good. And even though Savages was by no means a hit, for me it solidified Kitsch as one of the rising stars in Hollywood today. We cannot forget the villains here either. Hayek and Del Toro are both electric as the Mexican Drug Cartel leader and muscle, especially Del Toro who creates yet another memorable and despicable bad guy. But the real star of Savages is Oliver Stone himself. Savages is one of the most gorgeously directed, lusciously photographed films I have seen in a long time. Stone crafts each scene with the hand of a true seasoned master, not wasting a frame on anything useless. And with the story in Savages not being particularly original or shocking, that makes Stone’s talent shine through even brighter.
The Blu-ray from Universal matches the high quality of Stone’s work and showcases it brilliantly. Colors are vivid and pop off the screen, clarity and detail are second to none and the soundtrack is immersive and rich. This is an amazing release that demands attention. Highly recommended.