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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Savages | Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta | Review

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Savages

The dictionary defines savage as a fierce, ferocious, cruel, barbarous, untamed, or uncivilized human being, just the kind of people that fill the storyline of Oliver Stone's latest flick. According to the way the characters see it, who the savages are depends on what side you are on.

After a couple of disappointing films (including his most recent, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) director Oliver Stone is back in top form with this gripping thriller he, Shane Salerno and Don Winslow adapted from Winslow's 2010 best selling novel that takes place in the treacherous world of drug dealers.

The story follows Laguna Beach entrepreneurs, hot headed, volatile, bad ass Chon (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter, Battleship) and his best friend, peace loving, Buddhist type, botanist, Ben (Aaron Johnson, Kick Ass), Though polar opposites they have several things in common. As partners in a very profitable business, they grow and sell some of the best pot in the world thanks to Chon, an ex Navy Seal who brought back the high quality seeds from Afghanistan which has made them very rich. They also share a fabulous, upscale beachside home and a love triangle (recollections of Butch, Sundance and Etta or Jules, Jim and Catherine) with blonde California beach babe, O, short for Ophelia (Blake Lively), as in the name of Shakespeare's tragic heroine. In one of her many dreamy voice over narrations, O explains that while Chon is cold metal and Ben, the more mellow hunk is warm wood, together, they make one man.

The trio's idyllic lifestyle hits a snag when they receive a disturbing video showing a chain saw beheading, meant as a forewarning of things to come. After Chon and Ben refuse an offer to partner with a powerful Mexican drug cartel who want a cut of the action as well as their expertise and network, its leader, ruthless, crime boss Elena Sanchez (a stellar performance by Salma Hayek in a Cleopatra style wig) discovers their weakness and uses it to her advantage. Elena immediately sends her sadistic, maniacal henchman, Lado (Benecio Del Toro, at his creepiest best), to kidnap O, the woman Chon and Ben love, and hold her for a heavy ransom to make them agree to her demands.

Not to be underestimated, in desperation the boys come up with a plan to get her back that includes help from their a computer wiz /hacker friend, Spin, (an underused Emile Hirsch), and heavily armed assistance from several of Chon's war buddies, Navy seals quick to spring into action for stakeouts and as snipers.

Adding to the mix are John Travolta (overweight, with an unattractive, receding hairline) in a small supporting role as a corrupt, easy on the take DEA agent and family man, and Demian Bachir (Oscar nominated last year for A Better Life) as Elena's attorney/spokesman.

Chon and Ben are forced to resort to brutal and yes, savage measures on par with the vicious behavior of their foes. There is no horse head left under a bed sheet, but more than a few human heads will roll amid the graphic displays of violence and torture, gunfire, explosions and carnage before the movie is over. Backstabbing, double crosses, snitching, stealing and framing are all part of the scenario, as well as finding Elena's weakness and turning the tables on her for revenge.

Savages is a slick, highly stylized, well orchestrated film with good performances that will keep you on your toes with suspense, tension, a couple of surprising twists, and an unexpected double ending. It may not be Stone's best film, but it is entertaining and worth seeing, proving he still has what it takes to capture audiences and hold their attention.

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