“Savages” begins with a plausible premise: a couple of high school buddies
go their separate ways for a while after graduating—one (Ben) a botanist,
the other (Chon) a soldier. But they later get back together because the
soldier returns from Afghanistan with the best cannabis seed ever, and the
botanist knows exactly how to grow it. Thus they go into business together, in
California, and do very well with it. OK, so far it’s believable.
But somehow they are both in a continuing relationship with O (Blake Lively,
who looks surprisingly unglamorous throughout), which seems very unlikely,
even for the free-spirited. Love triangles like that don’t usually endure.
(Can you name even one?)
What isn’t surprising is that the success of the marijuana business quickly
gets noticed by 1) the Law, and 2) other drug dealers. As for 1), we have
Dennis, a DEA agent on the take (John Travolta, who’s suitably repugnant),
and as for 2), we have….Selma Hayek as a drug lord? Really, all she does is
act mean and cold-hearted, which may suit the role, but doesn’t exactly
endear her to the audience.
In fact, this movie suffers from a distinct lack of anyone to root for. All
the characters seem fatally flawed: O, a druggie herself? Chon, whose answer
to the drug cartel’s violence is to meet it with greater violence? Ben, the
gentle soul who has to learn to toughen up and harden his conscience if he’s
going to fight the bad guys? How, then, can we tell the difference between him
Yes, Benicio del Toro, as Lado, the sadistic henchman, is chillingly
believable as a remorseless enforcer, but then, he’s played that role
before, hasn’t he? And do we really want to see him torture people?
But the worst part about “Savages” is that Director Oliver Stone
couldn’t decide how to end it. So he gives us one kind of “Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid” scenario, then takes it back! And then superimposes
(perhaps because of pre-release audience ratings?) a second ending, which
completely eradicates any kind of suspension of disbelief we viewers may have
developed up to that point.
Besides, do we really want any of these thugs and addicts and profligates and
murderers to live happily ever after, anyway? Director Stone seems to think
so. But here’s to doubting his operating premise.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,