July 16, 2012
Oliver Stone is one of the legendary directors of this and the last century. His latest film “Savages” is a near masterpiece. If it were a dragster and was rocketing down the track it would turn in a great time, and would be hitting on all cylinders, and looking good. But a movie, to be a masterpiece, has to do more. While I really have no quarrels here with the tragedy and the comedy of the film, while the plot is Shakespearian in its dimensions, this film can not quite fill the space. But for me, it comes close enough for Hollywood.
The idyllic life of beach, surf, weed, and Southern California are about to run crosswise into the underbelly of Mexico, the rot that bubbles just under the glitter of the nuevo narco super rich just to the south of California pot heaven. When the crash comes it arrives in the form of an internet video filled with a brutal reality most Americans could not imagine.
Ben and Chon are two buddies from way back, who have gone into business with each other. Ben is both businessman and botanist, and as a pot plantation manager, and he seems to be doing what he was born to do; running a very high quality pot distribution network with a maximum of ethics (relatively speaking) and a minimum of violence. His buddy shares in the business and quirkiley enough, shares his girlfriend as well; Blake Lively, who plays Ophelia, or O for short. She is a beauty both inside and out, is a little spacey, but attractively so. The mechanics of Ben and Chon and O’s menage a trois make for an interesting side story, but it is a side story that is integral to the plot as well.
Chon is a special forces former Navy Seal, played by Taylor Kitsch. He also has quite a few Special Forces buddies, that come in very handy. For the Baja Cartel is making moves on the California independent growers and distributors, in part because of growing pressure from other cartels, but also because the California independents producie a many times more quality product than the Mexican farmers do. The product also is on the right side of the border, where the big money market is, and in this case Ben and Chon have a whole upscale distribution system to buyers that do not mind paying a premium for excellent bud; and I don’t mean Budweiser. Ben and Chon are ready to get out of the business, but that is not good enough for the Mexicans. They want partners to front for them and to grow product to the high standards that discerning aficionados of the cannabis cult in America have come to expect.
One of the best performances of “Savage is by Benicio Torres, who plays “Lado” chief enforcer for Salma Hayek “La Madrina.” Lado is a smug, not terribly bright, not terribly stupid pyschopath, who does what “La Madrina” says…and more. A true monster in human form. At the same time he can be funny as well, especially in scenes with John Travolta, who as a double, even triple dealing dirty DEA agent, manages to be funny as well, even as he is getting stabbed.
As you can imagine, things get very ugly, very quickly. Ben and Chon are forced to meet fire with fire. They are in a war, with no holds barred, and soon the peaceful Buddhist Ben, is confronted with the harsh reality of drug war, “al estilo Mexicano.” (Mexican style) Another twist to the story is that Elena or “La Madrina” is the cartel boss. A position she inherited, and took to heart as her fate or destiny in life. When the movie opens her role has cost her much of her life and family; it will cost more by the end.
Salma Hayak meets the the challenge of her role. She is a “Savage” true; but a woman as well, in a dark business that will strip the humanity away from it’s participants before it takes their life.
The movie is improbable in a few respects,;some, especially those that are unfamiliar with Mexican drug mayhem, will say that the violence is excessive. The Rio Grande Valley Audience in South Texas, with actual savagery being committed just a few short miles away every day in their own southern back yard, were riveted to the screen throughout the 130 minute run time.
You don’t want to miss this one..