Commentary

July 20, 2012

In theaters

Fly Over: ‘Savages’

by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter

In “Savages,” legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone has created a devastating American masterpiece of epic proportions. Based on the novel of the same name by Don Winslow and with a crackling screenplay co-written by Stone, Winslow and Shane Salerno, “Savages” is a seminal movie on what U.S./Mexican relations have pivoted on in the 21st Century: the drug trade.

The brutally violent bloodbath of a roller-coaster ride screams along at a blistering pace for the two hour, 10 minute run time.

Part “Traffic,” part “Natural Born Killers,” this is the story of two men fighting a ruthless Mexican drug cartel for the woman they both love.

The men are Ben (Aaron Johnson), a Berkley graduate who specializes in growing high-grade marijuana, and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a former Navy SEAL. The longtime friends live in Laguna Beach, where they inexplicably share a girlfriend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), a beautiful blonde from Orange County with rich, absent parents. Despite the unlikely arrangement, the three seem to have a happy, albeit unconventional, relationship.

Ben is a peace-loving philanthropist who uses the proceeds from their drug business to pursue renewable energy resources in third-world countries. Ophelia, who narrates the film in voiceover, says Ben had taken 99 percent of the violence out of the drug trade. The hot-headed but cool-under-pressure Chon was responsible for the remaining 1 percent.

With aims of getting out of the drug business, the men rebuff an offer to join forces with the Baja Cartel, which controlled much of the drug trade south of the border. The Mexicans, however, don’t take no for an answer, and thugs kidnap Ophelia in an attempt to force the men to comply with their demands.

The Baja Cartel is controlled by a woman named Elena (a steely-eyed Salma Hayek), whose husband and sons had been killed years before by a rival cartel. Elena runs Baja with an iron fist, and her chief enforcer is a ruthless sociopath, Lado (Benicio Del Toro).

The Puerto Rican-born Del Toro, 45, is a tour de force and should be nominated for best supporting actor for this shattering, powerhouse performance. When a fellow cartel member (Demian Bichir) is suspected of colluding with a rival organization, Lado orchestrates a retaliation that makes the torture scene in “Reservoir Dogs” look as tame as the latest Kate Hudson romantic comedy.

As Ben and Chon try to devise a way to recapture Ophelia from the cartel, they regularly meet with a corrupt DEA agent, Dennis (John Travolta, who delivers a brilliant performance in this small role). Without offering any spoilers, what follows next is a wild ride of explosions, drugs and violence. The moral, as Clint Eastwood said about his 1992 Western “Unforgiven,” is the concern with gunplay.

The film is shot beautifully, often lingering over Laguna Beach, with seagulls hovering on the wind, waves crashing into the shore, and hundreds of boats lined up neatly in the harbor.

“Savages” is Oliver Stone at his best. If you can handle it, don’t miss it.

“Savages” is a hard R, for violence, sex, nudity, language and drug use. Not for the faint of heart.



About the Author

Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
Tristan Hinderliter is a full-time Public Affairs Officer and part-time pop culture critic. When he's not listening to the Adam Carolla Podcast, he's usually watching movies. His favorite directors include David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher and Alexander Payne.


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