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Raven McCoy Digs The Violence and Brutality of SAVAGES!!

Hearing announcements about Oliver Stone's upcoming films has never really excited me. While he's put forth some great films like SCARFACE and JFK, others like WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS and ALEXANDER were absolutely boring and NATURAL BORN KILLERS was just plain fucked up.  It wasn’t SAVAGES came my way that I was genuinely interested in seeing one of his films beforehand. I've always been drawn to films that delve into drug wars. The stories twist and turn with the various factions fighting for control as they use any form of violence and politics to win, all while trying to avoid being caught by the cops. It’s dangerous and fascinating to maneuver through such a world and SAVAGES looked like it fit right into that category.

You’ve got two pot growers, the pacifist Ben (Aaron Johnson) and the hot headed ex-Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch), who grow some of the best weed in the world and run a relatively peaceful business. But when a Mexican drug cartel, led by Elena (Salma Hayek), tries to hoard in on their business, they politely decline.

Now no one says no to a Mexican drug cartel so Elena goes after their one weakness, their shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively). Elena’s trusted assassin/associate, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), kidnaps O and Chon and Ben do everything they can to get her back. 

A lot of the first half of the movie is driven by the love between Ben, Chon and O and their love story is pretty straight forward. These two boys love each other in a bromantical way while they have a shared love for O as their girlfriend. Many of the characters and myself wondered how does all that work without someone getting jealous or how did it even came to be is something? Where did this fierce love for her come from? It’s never stated beyond the initial introduction but I would've liked for their relationship to have been more developed so we could understand that dynamic more and care about them. Because even though I felt for Ben and Chon, their love story didn't seem fully realized and it took a backseat to more interesting storylines.

Their love story gets pushed to the background as the power struggle within Elena’s cartel begins to take over. Elena struggles to maintain her empire as she’s trying to take over Ben and Chon’s business but she’s also worried about another Mexican competitor known as El Azul. She’s also got a weakness that prevents her from acting rationally and the boys exploit that with the help of a crooked DEA agent played by John Travolta. Lado doesn’t want to remain under Elena’s thumb and tries to make his own moves to become top dog by any means necessary but still covering his tracks so he doesn’t get caught. With so much going on in the cartel, this story was so much more tense and exciting than the love story. On top of that the drug cartel had better actors.  There’s Del Toro who is fantastic, completely losing himself in Lado and coming off as such a ruthless but super chill maniac. Hayek's Elena will fuck a bitch up without a second thought but she also displays a vulnerable side and almost all too easily gives into that vulnerability. Demián Bichir has a small role as one of Elena’s representatives but is in one of the film’s most memorable and bloody scenes. Travolta is great as the conniving, frantic DEA official who’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

And the violence that comes with the cartel is just brutal! There is plenty of it, as Stone doesn’t shy away from showing bloody torture chambers, severed limbs and gory shootouts, most of which comes at the hands of Lado. Even though the violence doesn’t reach NATURAL BORN KILLERS level and I can handle a lot of violence and blood, at some points I just had to turn away. With every scene there is the constant threat of violence giving a sense of unpredictability and it all leads to a white-knuckle climax that had me wrecked with anxiety. That is until SAVAGES absolutely ruins itself. The story builds and builds to this tense standoff that had a tragic but beautiful Shakespearean ending that I was more than willing to accept and be at peace with. But then they decided to cop out of it and give a much more conventional ending that was just infuriating to me. With all the brutality and action that I had witnessed throughout the movie, the ending made sense to me. I really enjoyed the movie up until this point. This was the kind of bloody shoot out that I look forward to in these drug movies and then they just absolutely ruined the whole feel of the movie by sticking to some Hollywood convention.

    

With more and more emphasis being put on the cartel, it became clear that Johnson, Kitsch and Lively couldn’t carry the weight of the movie themselves, especially with the other exceptional actors involved. I became more considered with who was going to take over the cartel, if Elena would still be in charge or if Lado was going to try and usurp her or if El Azul was going to get rid of the two them than if Ben and Chon were going to rescue O and give up their business.

Despite being outshined by the veteran actors, Kitsch and Johnson still gave good performances. Johnson was great in KICK-ASS but he’s definitely grown as an actor since then.  He shows maturity as Ben and is given the chance to develop his character beyond being a hippy, philanthropist. When Ben’s brought over into Chon’s violent world, he’s forced to shed that innocent do-gooder mindset but is pretty shell-shocked by the whole experience. Kitsch hasn’t had the greatest roles this year but he plays a one-dimensional angry, violent guy pretty well. Chon is all violence, all the time and Kitsch always has his angry eyes in, a scowl on his face and looks more than comfortable roughing people up. Lively definitely looks the part of a SoCal girl and she wasn’t bad as the damsel in distress but she also doesn’t do much beyond being locked up and gagged. I also could have done without her narration throughout the movie. Occasionally she is useful provided background details on characters but most of the time she’s delivering all these lame, pseudo-enlightening lines like “He doesn’t have orgasms. He has wargasms.” and contemplating the ways of life. Just stay bound and gagged please.

SAVAGES could’ve been a real top notch drug war film had they stuck with the original ending, cut out O's narration and developed the love story some more. While I had my issues, it was still an exciting, sexy and gruesome film with some great performances that gave a modern take on the drug world.

 

-Raven McCoy

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Readers Talkback
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  • July 6, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    Last

    by professor murder

    End it now!

  • July 6, 2012, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Picture #1 makes me think of:

    by professor murder

    Bring out the Gimp

  • July 6, 2012, 3:57 p.m. CST

    Picture #2 makes me think of:

    by professor murder

    Wow, those are nice Selma, and I can't even see them.

  • July 6, 2012, 4:01 p.m. CST

    BREAKING BAD

    by 1919

    I don't think anything can be done with this genre now that Breaking Bad has done about everything and more.

  • July 6, 2012, 4:14 p.m. CST

    Scarface wasn't a great film

    by mr.underwater

    And Oliver Stone didn't make it

  • July 6, 2012, 4:20 p.m. CST

    Oliver Stone

    by professor murder

    He wrote the screenplay from the book. It was basically directed from his translation.

  • July 6, 2012, 4:50 p.m. CST

    It wasn’t "UNTIL" SAVAGES ...

    by Anthony Torchia

    Jesus guys, almost every review on this site has a typo, and usually several I think "until" is what's missing but whatever And Scarface again? It's a De Palma film, I don't think it belongs in the conversation Anyway, I didn't read past the first paragraph and I love Natural Born Killers end of line

  • July 6, 2012, 4:51 p.m. CST

    Scarface was a great film...

    by Darth Macchio

    ...and Oliver Stone wrote it.

  • July 6, 2012, 4:57 p.m. CST

    Do we need 3+ reviews of this fucking thing here?

    by TheGangBangTheory

    Slow movie week? Anyway, I'm mostly curious how raped the blond Cali girl gets by the greasy Mexican. And they don't even take her tits out? Bah, I'll check it on Netflix for a cheap thrill around the holidays.

  • July 6, 2012, 5:01 p.m. CST

    What's the ETA on the Savages banner ad?

    by Garbageman33

    Tonight? Tomorrow?

  • July 6, 2012, 5:20 p.m. CST

    I might rent this just to see the infuriating ending.

    by Adelai Niska

    Reviews are consistent about how shitty the happy ending is. Makes me oddly curious

  • July 6, 2012, 5:26 p.m. CST

    So the ending is like 'Wisdom' then...?

    by googamooga

    Look it up, infants.

  • July 6, 2012, 6:40 p.m. CST

    morganleafy

    by MorganLeafy

    Hooray for drunk posting! Hooray for Oliver Stone! World Trade Center! Fuck that shit!!!!!

  • July 6, 2012, 6:41 p.m. CST

    Stone didn't make "Scarface". He wrote it. DePalma made it.

    by Kirbymanly

    Therefore, this guy's opinion means nothing to me.

  • July 6, 2012, 6:52 p.m. CST

    Here, here, goldentribe!

    by Kirbymanly

    One of the best movies of the 90's. I would even dare to put "Nixon" in that same category.

  • July 6, 2012, 6:58 p.m. CST

    I despair

    by Baryonyx

    This site just gets worse and worse: awful reviews from illiterate people with no real film knowledge.

  • July 6, 2012, 7:29 p.m. CST

    NATURAL BORN KILLERS rocks in so many ways

    by brightgeist

    maybe it's too much beyond the pale for you? did you also not like FIGHT CLUB? or V FOR VENDETTA? those are the kinds of movies that show people that it's okay to think outside the box. and no, i don't mean to say that it's okay to kill people. those are metaphors, obviously.

  • July 6, 2012, 7:57 p.m. CST

    There's a new Judge Dredd trailer up on Apple....

    by D o o d

    it looks rubbish!

  • July 6, 2012, 10:08 p.m. CST

    Blake Lively has no idea how much she wants to blow me.

    by Queefer Sutherland

    I wonder if Salma allows guys to titty-fuck her.

  • July 6, 2012, 10:10 p.m. CST

    Offtopic: First Dark Knight Rises review is out!

    by Paul Hanlin Jr

    http://manarchymag.com/core/2012/07/dark-knight-rises-sneak-review/

  • July 6, 2012, 10:42 p.m. CST

    Of course Salma gets titty fucked...

    by ThulsaBoom

    ...but it's all for her, titties allegedly have a lot of nerve endings.

  • July 6, 2012, 10:48 p.m. CST

    @googamooga, Wisdom. Nice...

    by ThulsaBoom

    ...when it comes to Emilio I'm more of a Repo Man guy, but *SPOILER* the ultimate cop-out of an ending in Wisdom always brings me back to thinking about it. It would never work again, and probably didn't work many times before, but that shit kinda works for Wisdom. Who needs another Bonnie and Clyde? How about, I've just been smoking a stoge in the safety of my own bathtub? It's all good!

  • July 7, 2012, 12:16 a.m. CST

    HEY RAVEN

    by Fico

    How's it going? Anything new on your end? What are you doing this weekend? Maybe we could get together...who knows, could be fun!!

  • July 7, 2012, 2:55 a.m. CST

    Translation: "It was all O's idea!"

    by MARCEL_THE_NEGRO_PROJECTIONIST

    http://theync.com/static_html/23804-chainsaw_media.html

  • July 7, 2012, 3:01 a.m. CST

    d o o d

    by Baryonyx

    That DREDD trailer looks just fine. Megacity 1 doesn't look the way it does in the comic, but I like the way the action is photographed in this trailer.

  • July 7, 2012, 9:38 a.m. CST

    Weakest reviewer on AICN

    by cloudyP

    There are some really fine reviewers on AICN, but "Raven McCoy"'s stuff is like a junior-high english paper. Come on AICN, at least hire a copy editor. And what's with "With all the brutality and action that I had witnessed throughout the movie, the ending made sense to me. I really enjoyed the movie up until this point." She liked the ending, no, she didn't?? Huh??

  • July 7, 2012, 1:14 p.m. CST

    brightgeist

    by Marc Cerasini

    So if someone is "thinking out of the box" and blows you up or kicks your head in, it's just a metaphor. Do you even know what a metaphor is?

  • July 7, 2012, 1:29 p.m. CST

    Did Stone also make Conan and Midnight Express?

    by mr.underwater

    Because I thought they were made by John Milius and Alan Parker respectively. Yes he wrote them, but ask any screenwriter how much that actually has to do with the making of the film.

  • July 7, 2012, 9:11 p.m. CST

    Nice movie, but...

    by coosawatchie

    where the hell were Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Nealon? First episode of Weeds I have ever seen without them showing up at all

  • July 8, 2012, 7:55 a.m. CST

    I found it to be pretty weak

    by smackfu

    Almost every aspect of the film looked good on paper but had almost no impact. I felt very little motivation to care about what happened to these characters, and as a result the villains were less scary, the violence was less disturbing, and the betrayals uninteresting. I found the same with U-Turn, but even though I couldn't care less about Sean Penn's character, it was at least fun to watch him get jerked around by this weird little town. This movie didn't even have that. Just a bunch of people I didn't like in a conflict with some other people I didn't like. At least Del Toro was good for a laugh or two I guess.

  • July 8, 2012, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Stone's Lack of Balls

    by Guy Steele

    OMG, Did Stone really Scewed-up a great Novel!!! Of all the big serious directors around you would think Stone would be the one to have 'BALLS'! But no he is a EUNUCH here! Go Figure! Sure Del Toro, Travolta and Hayek have grand fun. They are great to watch in action though I would have liked a little more form Demian Bichir, a very fine actor as well. Here he has really one grand scene early on. Now the three leads or ok. The narration wasn't needed and whew, that ending... or endings. Sweet G, why make this movie and let that happen? Part-n-Part of what made Winslow's novel so Hip, Smart, Now and Great, was his unflinching story telling. Sure its Funny, Hip and Cool but its also very Brutal, Cruel and unrelenting and its finish is a real bloody, tear soaked mess of 'Real World' sadness. That Winslow had a hand in the screenplay bothers me, but perhaps his hand was part-in-part to what made those scenes with Del Toro sparkle and hum. I would almost go out on the limb here and say that Del Toro should at least be considered a 'Best Supporting Actor' nod for this. He wouldn't win, but his performance is out-of-the-park. And speaking of out-of-the-park... how about that one weird thing during the terrible ending... that strange visual reference to 'Traffic' and Del Toro, that was strange and slightly unsettling.

  • July 8, 2012, 4:34 p.m. CST

    Fun movie

    by Hipshot

    Except for the whole "sacrificial negro dying for the white woman" routine. Jeeze, you guys get off on that shit.