Posted July 8, 2012 by D. K. Holm
Savages starts out exciting for a crime film but loses steam about an hour in and it’s hard to figure out why. It’s also burdened with a double ending. The first ending comes from the lively book by Don Winslow. The second one is made up by director Oliver Stone and two other credited screenwriters, Winslow, and Shane Salerno. The second is “happier,” and American audience user-friendly.1 The film has a great cast: Salma Hayek as a Mexican drug lord pushed out of her home country into the United States, where she tries to take over the highly affective market of Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (the hapless Taylor Kitsch), who live in a Jules-and-Jim ménage with O, short for Ophelia (TV’s Blake Lively). When the duo resist the intrusion on their market, the drug lordess (and Winslow, taking a page out of Elmore Leonard) sends Benicio Del Toro to kidnap O. The rest of the film tracks several weeks in the lives of these characters as they all jostle for supremacy, Ben and Chon with the help of a DEA agent they have corrupted, played by John Travolta (whose one character bit of business is to always be drinking from a Bloomberg sized cup of pop). As long as Savagesis explaining how B C and O’s world works in a Scorsese-Casinosort of way, the film works fine, but about the third quarter, Stoneet al depart from the source novel2 and the pace loses its tightness, and becomes a bit of a slog. Still, the cast remains in top form, and the piece is well shot and edited. Pleasure all depends on which ending you prefer.
1 I wonder if they will clip off the happy ending for the foreign market.
2 Which had a conventional plot anyway, beneath its chatty meta-narrative over-voice, what with its drug merchant to drug merchant confrontations and concluding hostage switch in the desert.