Movie Review: Savages directed by Oliver Stone

There are three important times when someone refers to someone else as “savages” in Oliver Stone’s film of the same name. The movie begins with a computer/video of a Mexican drug cartel beheading six men. The video has been sent as a warning to a young veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who with his partner has built an extraordinarily successful pot growing business in Southern California. After he sees the video, he mutters “savages.”

When his idealistic partner returns from global activisim, they have two very different responses to the cartel’s offer. The vet wants to go in hard; the idealistic partner wants to give them everything and get out of the dope industry–they have enough money to last several lifetimes.

They also share the love and favors of one girl, O (for Ophelia). As the cartel stalks the trio, the cruelest of the Mexican cartel (Benicio Del Toro) notices the sexual arrangement of the three and calls them “savages.”

And finally, while walking on a beach in Indonesia, O notes that they have returned to nature, that they have become “savages.”

So the movie offers three definitions of the word “savage”:

1. utter cruelty
2. perceived perversion
3. stripped of civilization’s “refinements”

One knows what one is getting with an Oliver Stone film. Edgy cutting, great story, conspiracy, violence, magnificent cinematography and award winning performances. From JFK to Platoon to Born on the Fourth of July, his films have also had a political bent, examining modern society–sometimes controversially–with all its warts exposed and its naked emperors revealed.

The story, based on the novel by Don Winslow, pits the two independent pot growers Ben and Chon against a powerful Mexican cartel led by Selma Hayek. There are betrayals, murders, kidnappings, and thefts–and there are conversations about love and parenting and trust. There is corrupt law enforcement (what would an Oliver Stone film be without it), horrible violence, and magnificent scenery.

In the end, what we have is an enjoyable film where the loveable “bad guys” have to outwit both the despicable “bad guys” and the corrupted “good guys.” We have seen this before but that doesn’t detract from the film at all. It is a plot that always seems to work for me. In fact, after seeing the film one might make a favorable reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–a film about two other loveable outlaws. Except the comparison is ruined because Ophelia herself makes the analogy early in the film. That is my only complaint–Oliver Stone should be more subtle than that.

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