A bloody mess
Is there a message to Oliver Stone’s madness?
By Tim Pompey 07/19/2012
Directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson
Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout
2 hrs. 11 mins.
Don’t even try to make sense of this film. From the get-go, the story is a real head-scratcher. Like most Stone movies, I’m certain there’s a paranoid message to his madness, but how to interpret that message, beyond just a bloody drug war film? What’s he trying to tell us?
The truth is, if he’s making a point, it’s damn near impossible to discern. Then again, I suspect Stone may be toying with us. You think this might be a drug lord action film. Well, not exactly. You think this might be a young-gun sexy thriller. Well, some sex, but lots of pondering. You think the answers to some of these questions might come with the ending. Huh. Good luck there.
Two young men, Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), have developed a highly profitable weed business out of their home headquarters in Laguna Beach. Ben is an idealist who uses part of his drug money to do charitable work. Chon is an Afghanistan war veteran who provides the muscle for the business.
The eye candy and lover in their house — the sex goddess and homemaker for both of them — is Ophelia (Blake Lively), otherwise known as O.
The Mexican Mafia (called the BC) move in on their territory and, like Don Corleone, make Ben and Chon an offer they can’t refuse. The cartel is run by Elena (Salma Hayek) with Lado (Benecio Del Toro) as her enforcer.
When Ben and Chon initially balk, the BC kidnaps O and forces them to cooperate. Now it becomes a cat and mouse game, with both sides clawing for an advantage. The body parts start to add up, and like any good western, it has a climactic showdown.
If all this sounds like a gruesome version of Wall Street, you might be right. It has that type of feel. But Stone and photo director Dan Mindel are also going for some extra visual gusto as they try to create a drug-like state of mind set against bright California beaches, hot Mexican deserts and blood-soaked warehouses.
If you’re hoping for character development, forget it. The characters are who they are from start to finish. If you’re looking for high energy, that may be true in parts, but, other than forcing the viewer to stare horror in the face, I don’t think Stone is terribly interested in a standard blow-’em-up thriller.
There are some good performances in this film, most notably Salma Hayek as the psychotic and motherly drug lord who butchers her enemies and dotes on her children, and Blake Lively as the frail O, the lost girl/woman who wants nothing more than to stay bedded and sheltered with Ben and Chon. Kitsch also powerfully displays his warrior essence and seems destined for a career in macho action.
But the highs and lows of this film will probably divide an audience right down the middle. Some will hate it, some will love it, and some, like me, will wonder about Stone’s fierce cynicism.
Has he crossed a line here? It seems so to me. In Savages, plausibility is a sideshow. Stone would much rather rub our faces in raw cold power, murder for business and the instinctive need to grab and protect personal human property.
Can these characters love? Maybe, but if you take Stone’s ending to heart, love and possession inevitably splinter any relationship, even one as strong as Ben and Chon’s.
Perhaps that’s Stone’s ultimate point. Maybe he wants to disparage any faith we may have in human love. Maybe he wants to point out how we are all predatory savages. If that’s so, the man has definitely gone to the dark side. What’s more troubling. He’d like for us to join him.