Having seen the trailer to Oscar®-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone’s thriller Savages, I thought I knew what to expect from this power struggle over the drug business. It is not that I anticipated a predictable script from Stone, Shane Salerno (Armageddon, Shaft) and Don Winslow, author of best-selling crime novel by the same name. I realize now I did not prepare myself adequately for the extreme violence. I do not know how I could have. I underestimated it; that is for sure.
Benicio del Toro is so good at being bad and Salma Hayek is no longer Kitty Softpaws (Puss in Boots). They each give a new meaning to corporate take- over in this film.
The writers do not hold back on the reality of how violent the drug world is, not just in the U. S. but on an international level. It always has been violent, that is nothing new, as many film fans have seen mafia films for decades. But with Latin American drug cartel activity now in the U. S., so follows their brand of justice, especially if they feel there has been a double-cross.
Viewers should be aware of this extreme violence before choosing to watch this film, but the brutal scenes in the film display the reality of this ugly world. All too often U.S. residents who partake of recreational drugs only see the final product purchased. Most likely, they are completely unaware of what it takes to get it here for their consumption and how many people die to complete the transaction.
The director of photography, Dan Mindel (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III), provides a vast array of excellent scenes of both worlds; an “ideal” world by the ocean with some beautiful landscape views in Laguna Beach, Orange County, California, to the horror of beheadings, shoot outs and fiery deaths. The action scenes are extremely intense, whether it is a sex scene in different locales or high speed chases.
All the members of the all-star ensemble cast are to be commended for their accurate portrayal of different characters in the drug world on both sides of the border.
Taylor Kitsch provided a decent performance in Battleship released in May, but as Chon, a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, he definitely excels in the delivery of this character’s intensity, both in his relationships and business. His best friend and business partner, Ben (Aaron Johnson) delivers a good performance of a completely different character than that of the one from Kick-Ass). After the friends established a lucrative business growing pot, the Mexican Baja cartel leader, Elena “La Reina” (Salma Hayek), decides there will be a corporate take-over with no negotiation. Things heat up when the boys decline the offer. When their shared love interest, Ophelia, known as O (Blake Lively, The Town), is kidnapped during a trip to the mall, neither of them will have the same cushy life as they have known it.
The indie entrepreneurs have an uphill battle in the war with Elena and staff, but they reluctantly resort to getting help from a dirty DEA agent, Dennis (John Travolta). Their accountant Spin (Emile Hirsch) can be very creative with numbers when called upon, but he too has a price for doing so. Travolta is at his best being dirty and coming up trying to smell like a rose and saving the day.
Actually, everything has a price in this battle of wills. Using Elena’s “playbook,” Ben and Chon locate Elena’s daughter on U.S. soil, Magdalena (Sandra Echeverria) and give “La Reina” a taste of her own medicine. The tough cartel leader folds to her knees in one scene and Hayek delivers it well, revealing the soft spot to this queen bee. It is especially good after the scene where she verbally chews up and spits out three men (Demian Bicher and Del Toro included) in a dramatic scene (in Spanish with English subtitles) after screwing up a job she ordered. Boy can Hayek fling the cuss words!
Lado (Benicio Del Toro) is Elena’s enforcer and Alex (Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir (A Better Life) is a well-heeled attorney and negotiator for the boss. Unfortunately, Alex does not fare well in this business and the last scene with him, Lado and Ben is one of the toughest ones to watch in the film.
I know I was not the only one holding my breath in several scenes during the screening, as I could hear each of the gentlemen on each side of me also relax their pose and breathe. The film is not a documentary, but after Winslow’s research in U. S. border – states and Mexico, this script is not all Hollywood fiction. I made sure someone watched me walk to my car after the screening after dark.