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Nordling Says Oliver Stone's SAVAGES Is A Hell Of A Fun Time!

Nordling here.

SAVAGES is a stunning return to form for Oliver Stone.  This is Stone in SCARFACE mode here (he even opens the movie with a massacre that’s very reminiscent of the shower scene in SCARFACE) and SAVAGES feels like Oliver Stone in his heyday, just trying every damn thing that will stick and just reveling in the joys of filmmaking once again.  There are moments in SAVAGES that are pure cinema – some don’t work, but most do, and it’s all due to Stone’s willingness to try anything cinematically.  It really is Stone’s best movie in a very long time.

Based on the novel by Don Winslow, SAVAGES is about two high school friends in the pot business – one of them, Ben (Aaron Johnson) grows and sells it, and the other, Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the muscle for when things go south.  The love each other like brothers (and perhaps even more than that) and the third person in their circle is O (Blake Lively), a once-spoiled rich girl who loves them both.  As expected from an Oliver Stone movie, the film makes no judgments about this threesome, and O, Ben, and Chon love each other deeply.

Their marijuana crop is doing big business, and as such it gets them the attention of the cartels in Mexico, specifically the cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek).  She wants a piece of the money these kids are making, but they’d rather not partner up with anyone just yet, especially someone known for their violence.  But Ben and Chon have very little choice in the matter – Elena orders her right-hand man, Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to take O for ransom, and Ben and Chon have to improvise and figure out how to get her back.  Even a corrupt DEA agent on Ben and Chon’s payroll, Dennis (John Travolta) can’t help them stop Elena’s cartel, so Ben and Chon have to play everyone against each other if they hope to see O alive again.

Aaron Johnson has changed quite a bit since his KICK ASS days, but he’s terrific, and although Taylor Kitsch has had a rough time of it this year at the box office, he holds his own here.  Ben and Chon are closer than brothers and Johnson and Kitsch complement each other’s performances nicely.  However, the two grand performances of the film belong to Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek.  Del Toro is loathsome and out for himself, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and he does it with such a maniacal glee that you can’t help but root for him a little bit.  He’s obviously having a great time with the role. 

But the truly iconic performance of the movie belongs to Salma Hayek.  As head of the cartel after her husband’s death and the deaths of her sons, she is holding on with both hands to what is left, and if taking down these two kids with their superior weed is what it takes, she’ll ruthlessly hunt them down and take what is hers if she must.  And yet, there’s an interesting dichotomy as she seeks to have a relationship with a daughter who wants nothing to do with her.  You can see the cracks in her armor but she can’t allow compassion to cloud her judgment or get in the way of her ambition.  It’s a meaty role and Hayek dives in without reservation.  You can’t take your eyes off her when she’s onscreen, because you truly don’t know what she will do next.  Elena is at constant war with herself, and once the boys find her weakness, she unleashes her wrath on anyone who gets in her way.

John Travolta's Dennis is appropriately sleazy but even he has motivation behind his manipulations.  Emile Hirsch, as Ben and Chon’s surfer accountant, is also very good as the boys slowly get in over their head. Demián Bichir is also quite good as Alex, Elena's representative to the indie drug growers.  The script, by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, and Oliver Stone gets the cadence of the book right, but more importantly, gives characters that were in the book more room to breathe.

But the true star of the movie is Oliver Stone.  This is Stone invigorated – the wonderful cinematography of Daniel Mindel uses all sorts of colors and fades, and Stone knows when to ramp up the tension and when to dial it down.  Stone takes Don Winslow’s book and turns it inside out – people hoping for a page-by-page rendition of the novel will likely be disappointed, but Stone is allowed to dive into the material and play.  This is, in fact, the most playful Stone’s been in years.  SAVAGES is just fun, and you can tell Stone really enjoys spending time with these characters and this story.

Oliver Stone even has the audacity to change the ending from the book in such a way that it is certain to polarize fans of the book versus fans of Stone’s work.  But the ending is almost literally Stone having his cake and eating it too, and I enjoyed that Stone had the guts to do it.  This is Oliver Stone cut loose from the politics (although I can say that the contextual theme of the movie is that if pot were legal, none of these people that we enjoy spending all this time with would have to meet their violent ends; I am under no illusions where Stone stands on the legalization of marijuana from this movie alone) and just having fun with rich characters, intense situations, and playful filmmaking.  I’ve missed this filmmaker for quite some time, and hopefully the Oliver Stone that we loved and respected as a major director is back and here to stay.  SAVAGES may be the most surprising film of the summer – if you’re not utterly married to the source material, I think savvy film audiences will enjoy the ride that Oliver Stone takes them on.

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback
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  • July 5, 2012, 10:39 p.m. CST

    Sounds good.

    by A_Banned_Apart

    I'm a bit leery of Ms. Lively as an actress, but I'm up for a good Oliver Stone flick.

  • July 5, 2012, 10:40 p.m. CST

    Looking Forward to This!

    by Tank Williams

    You just stabbed a federal agent!

  • July 5, 2012, 10:43 p.m. CST

    i've been looking forward to this movie

    by antonphd

    i'm glad to hear that it's fun

  • July 5, 2012, 10:49 p.m. CST

    Review sounds somewhat encouraging, but...

    by Ruben

    Stone has been hit or miss for at least a decade

  • July 5, 2012, 10:50 p.m. CST

    Also, hopefully the trailers didn't spoil too

    by Ruben

  • July 5, 2012, 10:53 p.m. CST

    "meet their violent ends"

    by Riley Harrison

    So everyone dies in the end? Spoiler alert, Nordling?

  • July 5, 2012, 11:03 p.m. CST

    Saw this at free screening

    by Glenn

    Benicio steals it -- absolutely menacing; the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and saluted him every time he was onscreen. Blake Lively -- quite a few people snickered during her ongoing V.O., and it IS grating. Her voice is in the movie more than she is. It's a vicious movie, to be sure, and it's nice to see Stone not doing Alexander. I do recommend everyone catching his doc South of the Border, it's an excellent examination of US/CIA methods of de-legitimizing South American leadership...what they deem "regimes." Nordling -- what do you mean by "Dan Mindel uses all sorts of colors and fades"? Do you mean grad filters? Cuz a fade is an optical; no one on a camera crew calls them fades. The photography is appropriately grungy and druggy...

  • July 5, 2012, 11:05 p.m. CST

    "This is Oliver Stone cut loose from the politics"

    by SunTzu77

    "although I can say that the contextual theme of the movie is that if pot were legal, none of these people that we enjoy spending all this time with would have to meet their violent ends; I am under no illusions where Stone stands on the legalization of marijuana from this movie alone" Or, maybe if the characters went to college and got an education they might not have met their "violent ends." Or, if they don't have any ethics or a moral compass... if it wasn't marijuana... it might as well be any other drug... or any other occupation that's quick, dirty, high risk, big reward. The film does still sound intriguing.

  • July 5, 2012, 11:06 p.m. CST

    Meh, 56% on rotten tomatoes.

    by SunTzu77 I might wait for Netflix.

  • July 5, 2012, 11:15 p.m. CST

    Sun- Have you watched no previews for this?

    by Cartagia

    I have, because its been shown with every movie I've seen in the last 6 months. The narration has "____ went to Stanford, where he double majored in business and botany".

  • Taylor's a nice guy who's had a bad summer. Tough breaks, kid. I hope he finally gets in a decent move someday. Meanwhile, Amazing Spider-man was STUNNING. Incredible performances from both the leads - worlds ahead of the last version, which was pretty darn good. But this is in another league.

  • July 5, 2012, 11:36 p.m. CST

    Trailers for this look dreadful....

    by Jobacca

    And Blake Lively? More like Blake UN-Lively,right? RIGHT?????? BTW,whats up with Hayeks accent in this? Is she purposely laying it on thick,or does she have that Arnold Schwarzenegger syndrome where the longer she's in America,the worse her natural accent gets? 'Cause she sounds like a cartoon character in the trailers......

  • July 5, 2012, 11:44 p.m. CST

    Great film RUINED by idiotic ending!!! SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!

    by DukeTogo84

    Saw this at a screening Monday and loved it, until the ending which is easily one of the worst endings I have ever seen. (Believe me I've seen thousands of films) It felt cheap, annoying and just plain dumb. My entire audience started laughing while others cursed out lines like "What the fuck was that?" It's that bad. The ending litterally rewinds! Still can't believe how a film that could have been the best of the year was ruined. I've loved every Stone film with one exception, (World Trade Center), but I have to say Fuck Stone for ruining what could have gone down as a classic. Check out reviews and IMDB and see what other think about this dumb ending.

  • July 5, 2012, 11:55 p.m. CST

    I love that Taylor Kitsch is featured prominently on the poster

    by SupermanIsMyGod

    "Savages...starring the only actor to headline two $200 million blockbusters that bombed horribly in the same year" Coming Soon To A Discount Bin Near You

  • July 6, 2012, midnight CST

    We're seeing this at the Hollywood Arclight Friday night!

    by Pixelsmack

    This looks great, cant wait. The HOAL FTW!

  • July 6, 2012, 12:11 a.m. CST

    So Nordling, I Take It You Disliked Blake Lively's Performance

    by HateThaNet

  • July 6, 2012, 12:31 a.m. CST

    Lively Was Ok In This. Too Bad Ending Screwed The Whole Movie

    by DukeTogo84

    Lively was really hot in this as well.

  • July 6, 2012, 12:53 a.m. CST

    Your review seems to suggest Ben and Chon may be gayish...

    by Somerichs

    Am I understanding you correctly? If so, that would be one of the liberties taken with the original story from the book, and a pretty big one at that. At least, I didn't get that from the book at all...anyone else?

  • July 6, 2012, 1:06 a.m. CST

    I am iffy on this one.

    by KevinMuller

    Stone has been off in his last few films and Taylor is 0-2 with me. John Carter was absolute shit and can't believe that was allowed to have the budget with me. It looks like it is trying too hard to be edgy.

  • July 6, 2012, 1:38 a.m. CST

    Good to hear Oliver is back.

    by hallmitchell

    Man, this guy used to make great movies. There is no one around now that makes the social impact movies this guy used to make.

  • July 6, 2012, 1:41 a.m. CST

    If this doesn't do well... Poor Taylor Kitsch

    by D.Vader

    Being paired with: A) a good movie by an Oscar winning director, saddled with terrible, biased pre-reviews and okay box office B) a terrible movie saddled with bad box office but never discussed/debated on the level as John Carter was C) a potentially good movie by an Oscar-winning director His fault? Or the studio? I'm reminded of the year poor Jude Law had like 6 movies come out at the same time. Didn't do any wonders for him.

  • July 6, 2012, 1:42 a.m. CST

    The ads for Savages need MORE

    by D.Vader

  • And less of the white people. Save for Blake Lively. The ads for this movie need: A) Taylor Kitsch with his shirt off (I haven't seen any) B) Salma Hayek looking hot (I haven't seen much) C) Blake Lively looking like a wholesome whore D) MORE Benicio Del Toro as a badass No Country For Old Men style villain who won't take shit from ANYONE. I really wish they built this movie up as the good pot dealers against a force of evil in the form of Benicio. The ads needed more of his scary visage.

  • I thought her line in the ads, "I won't hesitate to cut their throats," or whatever, was particularly without bite, more bark than truly threatening. I'm glad to hear there is more to her than just that, as I thought she could be a frightening villain if handled correctly, the kind who used her beauty to buy protection and then killed those bodyguards to prove no one was safe. Only money and loyalty would get you ahead.

  • If weed were legal in America, would Salma and her husband have simply died out due to "natural" business means? Survival of the fittest and they couldn't compete with the domestic production? God I hope we legalize weed soon. And I don't even smoke the shit; I just think we'd all be a lot better off if this was treated like alcohol, its closest drug comparison.

  • I'm glad AICN doesn't deal in gossip and twitter-speak about celebrities, but here is a case where I think our collective respect for the actor/memory for his talent could have counter-acted the mass media's response to his willingness to be "real". We don't care that he's bald like the rest of us. I wish you would have told the world.

  • July 6, 2012, 1:55 a.m. CST


    by Party_Animal_IV

    way more stoked about THIS than some spider man origin remake. Oliver Stone in full on thriller mode!

  • July 6, 2012, 2:08 a.m. CST

    Salma does not exist in this dojo

    by Cobra--Kai

    To those who have seen the film I ask: Any Salma nudity or hotness?

  • July 6, 2012, 2:41 a.m. CST

    What's all this Scarface shit?

    by KGB3317

    Stone wrote it. De Palma directed it. This would be like bringing up True Romance as a Tarantino film.

  • July 6, 2012, 3:41 a.m. CST

    This review needs a SPOILER warning

    by berserkrl

    Saying that the movie differs from the book in respect X, when some readers may have read the book, is obviously a spoiler. The review should warn accordingly.

  • July 6, 2012, 3:42 a.m. CST


    by berserkrl

    quote:: This would be like bringing up True Romance as a Tarantino film.::unquote And that would be crazy because?

  • July 6, 2012, 5:01 a.m. CST

    agree with kgb33

    by ratfarts

    Scarface is DePalma's movie (Stone's story). When you're talking about a director returning to form for his direction, mention a film he directed. Stone didn't write this movie, it's based off of a book.

  • The trailer makes it look like her acting is the worst thing in the movie. Maybe the trailer just highlights all her really shitty scenes for some odd reason?

  • July 6, 2012, 5:33 a.m. CST


    by Jake

    couldn't disagree more...absolute lazy story telling with narration that borders on unbearable...also stone clearly doesn't respect his audience as the narration often describes scenes unfolding before our kitsch and believe his failures at the box office would have happened to anyone who took those roles but he left something to be desired...agree about del toro...LONE redeeming factor.

  • July 6, 2012, 5:43 a.m. CST

    @supermanismygod/fuck wad

    by Jake

    those flops weren't because of kitsch, was he supposed to turn down 2 mega blockbusters one of which was helmed by his boy peter berg? those movies weren't going to gross no matter who starred.

  • July 6, 2012, 6:38 a.m. CST

    IMDB says Brian De Palma directed Scarface

    by coolhanddave

  • July 6, 2012, 6:49 a.m. CST

    I've got not faith in Taylor Kitsch

    by Wcwlkr

    How this dude keeps getting roles is beyond me? Having this dude in your movie is like the Kiss of Death.

  • July 6, 2012, 7:12 a.m. CST

    You're all so fucking stupid

    by NightArrows

    Who gives two fucks if Kitsch was in Carter and that film "bombed"?? Will that prevent you from seeing this film and making your own, obviously little, mind up as to whether you like the film or dislike it? You're all so fucking goddamn stupid and should be irradiated to prevent you stupid mother fuckers from ever breeding. What's worse is that I keep reading the shit you walking abortions spray into the talkbacks like so much diarrhea. As for this film? Going to see it, if it sucks, oh well $12 bucks and time at the theatre is not a loss. Although I rarely can stand Hayek...

  • July 6, 2012, 7:26 a.m. CST

    Indie films with excellent actors bomb all the time

    by Terrence

    I ain't saying Kitsch is in that boat, but I don't avoid the dude just because of his flicks not doing that well financially. He's got some charm about him, you can't front.

  • July 6, 2012, 7:43 a.m. CST

    maybe I'll catch this when it hits the last run cinema

    by Spandau Belly

    This might be worth $5, I definitely don't think it's worth the $15 they charge for first fun movies at the multiplexes. I like Del Toro.

  • July 6, 2012, 7:48 a.m. CST

    Re Scarface - De Palma directed but the script was Stone

    by Darius Doherty

  • July 6, 2012, 8:09 a.m. CST

    thank you night arrows

    by jsfithaca

    kitsch is actually a really good actor, which you would know if you've seen friday night lights (which is still on instant so you should all watch it). he was miscast in both battleship and john carter, and those movies were gonna bomb with or without him. his role in savages seems more fitting for him. i cant wait to see it today it looks awesome.

  • July 6, 2012, 8:27 a.m. CST

    Battlefield Earth Star John Travolta

    by zer0cool2k2

    In 1993, Travolta starred in "Look Who's Talking Now". He followed that with "Pulp Fiction". (Which made 9 Million Dollars it's opening weekend, not exactly a blockbuster at that point.). So what does "John Carter" (which was a good movie, that got killed by bad buzz and an ignorant public) have to do with the success or failure of "Savages"? I'll bet that most moviegoers have no clue that the same guy is in John Carter, Battleship and Savages.

  • July 6, 2012, 8:39 a.m. CST

    Taylor Kitsch: How? Really?!?

    by obijuanmartinez

  • July 6, 2012, 9:01 a.m. CST


    by zer0cool2k2

    1. Savages had to be cast and filming before the total failures of John Carter (unjustified), and Battleship (justified). 2. See "Friday Night Lights" the series. 3. Isn't a better question: "Blake Lively, how? Really? Actually, Stone said his young cast were all up and comers who were unknown to him before their auditions (To which, Chelsea Handler asked him "Really? you don't watch Gossip Gir?l").

  • July 6, 2012, 9:04 a.m. CST

    Reminds me of that Tori Amos song

    by kolchak

    where she sings "Feel better with Oliver Stone/ til I almost slapped him." <br /> <br /> That's how I've felt about his films for the past 8 years.

  • I mean, two successful, rich, good looking drug dealers banging the same girl??? Just ruins the plot for me. Either one of them could pull any of those stunning hotties in Cali (I assume the movie is in Cali). If the girl was one of the guys sister, it would make a lot more sense. Ever since I saw the first trailer, I just couldn't get over that shit.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:30 a.m. CST

    Why do so many of you care about the Box Office so much?

    by Andrew Coleman

    Going after that guy because John Carter and Battleship didn't do well in America(Both did VERY FUCKING WELL over seas)... So maybe he'll get put on even more movies just for over seas $$$. Who cares? He's just a decent Canadian actor. Savages doesn't have the pressure those other films did... John Carter's bloated production value on top with Disney announcing(STUPID!) it needed to make like $400 domestic to be a hit. Battleship cost a truck load because they thought they could ride the Transformer retard wave. Savages I've read cost less than $100 million... That means any decent domestic and over seas total and DVD/download total means a hit. So there is no pressure here. So no worries.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:45 a.m. CST

    This is why I hate filmmakers vs authors

    by doom master

    An Author has an idea...Writes a novel. It's a damn good story and maybe he has aspirations of it being adapted into a movie.... Then comes Hollywood, makes him an offer, craps all over the book, changes the ending and everything else rendering the movie a total ripoff of the original material....Which, in essence is like the Director of the movie saying "screw you" to the author. I liked your story, bro, but Im making it MY OWN. Thanks for signing off on the rights so i can take a huge shit over your work and turn it into a Teenage Dream...

  • July 6, 2012, 9:47 a.m. CST

    myphdisdoom, as I've said before

    by P

    People throw around BO figures and RT scores to validate and inflate their opinions. It's a lazy substitute for developing a personal relationship with film and expressing critical thought. It also makes them feel connected to the industry, as if they are in the know. Personally, I don't get it. If I needed validation from the masses I wouldn't be hanging out on a movie geek website.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:51 a.m. CST


    by SenatorJeffersonSmith

    This movie looks like a giant bowl of turds, and I don't think I'll waste my time on it.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:52 a.m. CST

    violent ends

    by Steve Lamarre

    Spoiler alert: everything will have a violent end when the sun swallows the earth. Or when our Milky Way galaxy collides with Andromeda. There's nothing you can legalize to save us from that shit.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:56 a.m. CST

    Ahh, lay off Taylor Kitsch

    by PotSmokinAlien

    Did you see John Carter? Once the first 10 minutes were over, it was fucking awesome. Kitsch did a great job, too.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:56 a.m. CST

    Rotten Tomatoes or Meta Critic for for fucking tools.

    by Stereotypical Evil Archer

    Lots of dumb people out there, fucking sheep. People who use those sites only listen to the top 40.

  • July 6, 2012, 9:59 a.m. CST

    In 2003, Stone came into a store I worked in...

    by PotSmokinAlien

    He was with a tiny Asian woman. Nobody else was in the store right then, and he came over and chatted with me for a few minutes, and there was this weird expectant vibe from him. I didn't realize it was him until 15 minutes after he left, and that he'd really wanted me to recognize him. I wish I had. I would have told him Natural Born Killers was one of my favorite movies. At that point in his career I think the dude would have liked to hear that. Glad he's back to form.

  • July 6, 2012, 10:28 a.m. CST

    RE: stereotypical evil archer...

    by Tim

    Hold on there... I think Rottentomatoes is a great tool for gathering consensus. Sure, it shouldn't be used as gospel, I agree, BUT, if me and my girl are looking for a movie on demand or netflix and it sounds interesting but we've never heard of it, and then I look and it got a 18% on RT, I'm probably not gonna watch it. If it got a 94%, that will probably lead to a viewing. I find it useful.

  • July 6, 2012, 10:35 a.m. CST

    Taylor isnt bad, he just picks bad projects.

    by clancy021061

    Now Sam Worthington. THAT guy is truly awful. And John Carter. I rented it knowing I would hate it. I was wrong. It was entertaining. Dont let the Disney stupid machine turn you away, its decent and fun.

  • July 6, 2012, 10:44 a.m. CST

    John Travolta's hair courtesy of Jason Alexander from Shallow Hal.

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    Thats not a rug, it's astro turf.

  • July 6, 2012, 11:28 a.m. CST

    "I have orgasms. He has wargasms."

    by Donald Callahan

    Yes, this is an actual line of dialogue from this movie, stated in voice-over as a clothed Lively is having sex with a bare-assed Kitsch. I could swear Oliver Stone used to be a good writer...

  • July 6, 2012, 1:24 p.m. CST


    by detectivesoap

  • July 6, 2012, 1:43 p.m. CST

    When the fuck are we going to legalize.


  • July 6, 2012, 2:49 p.m. CST

    New powerful strain of weed on the streets

    by Steve Lamarre

    and it's called Wookie Blowjob.

  • And yes, the people who smoke it all the time are stupid, much like the people who drink all the time are stupid, or people who eat nothing but processed food and soda are stupid. Anyone who ruins his or her life willingly and knowingly is in my opinion stupid. Smoking, vapourizing cannabis in moderation has less of a health impact than aspirin. Pot doesn't make one stupid, being stupid makes one stupid.

  • July 6, 2012, 3:24 p.m. CST

    metacritic has this at 62

    by Anthony Torchia

    and 2/3 of the reviews are positive, so Nordling is in good company But have fun complaining :-)

  • July 6, 2012, 5:22 p.m. CST

    Ending wrecked it (spoilers)

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    So, I take it the shootout/everyone dies ending was how the book concluded? Then Stone totally fucked up the amoral buzz of the entire thing by sticking that LOUSY "Hollywood Ending" on. Yuck.

  • July 6, 2012, 6:52 p.m. CST

    that's no guts, and its no glory...

    by Homer Sexual

    terrible ending, ruining an on the fence movie up till that point. Salma does a great job, though. All the acting is fine, but the writing is off and the directing isn't "fun" enough.

  • July 6, 2012, 8:11 p.m. CST

    Life Rule #1, according to movies...

    by TopHat

    ...if a person loves their kid, then whatever they do doesn't matter. Case in point: This movie; Hayek ruthlessly murders people, yet, she's still okay because she loooves her daughter. She's just trying to protect her family. She's just trying to provide a better life for her daughter. Etc. This idealogy is confirmed in most every mainstream Hollywood film and independent movie.