Movie review: 'Savages:' Violent story of O and friends


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Ophelia -- "O" for short -- can be a gutsy kidnap victim.

She demands a clean room and an occasional salad, instead of the pizza diet that a young Mexican jailer seems to prefer. O (Blake Lively) is a Californian born into privilege and secure in the knowledge that her live-in Laguna Beach boyfriends, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), will rescue her somehow, someday in Oliver Stone's "Savages."

Chon is a former Navy SEAL while Ben is an eco-friendly botanist-businessman who wants to help save the planet -- in between growing some of the best weed in the world.


'Savages'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson.
  • Rating: R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout.

Together, O insists, "they're one complete man," and the three know, trust and take care of one another. "I'm the home neither of them ever had," the blonde says.

The leader of the Mexican Baja Cartel who ordered O's kidnapping sees the trio differently. "There is something wrong with your love story, baby," Elena (Salma Hayek) tells her captive. The men love Ophelia but not as much as each other, Elena theorizes.

The pot peddlers' crop is so legendary, thanks in part to a freakishly high level of a psychoactive compound, that it attracts the attention of a dirty Drug Enforcement Agency agent (John Travolta) and the Mexican Baja Cartel. When Chon and Ben seem reluctant to "partner" with the south of the border dealers -- "no" is not an option -- O is kidnapped.

The Americans are drawn into gruesome, deadly games in which decapitations, lashings, military-style explosions, phony financials, torture, regular old gunfire and double crosses leave a smeared trail of blood, corpses and fractured families across the extra-wide and often lovely landscapes.

"Savages," based on the novel by Don Winslow, who wrote the screenplay with Shane Salerno and Mr. Stone, is boldly bloody and predictably and unpredictably violent as the word "savages" is thrown around by all sides.

As for the drugs, the cartels are compared to Wal-Mart, and the consumers range from millionaire lawyers or dealers to a woman who started using in the eighth grade, cancer patients and some low-life girlfriend in a hotel room with her breasts on display to a stranger.

Benicio Del Toro, an Oscar winner for "Traffic," is a psychopath who fires an accomplice by shooting him in the head, decreeing, "Didn't work out." Demian Bichir, an Oscar nominee as an undocumented gardener in "A Better Life," portrays a cartel lawyer and negotiator, while Emile Hirsch ("Into the Wild") is an accounting genius and hacker.

Mr. Kitsch has been everywhere of late, from "John Carter" to "Battleship," and Ms. Lively is no stranger thanks to roles ranging from "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" to "The Town" and "Green Lantern."

The revelation of the movie might be Mr. Johnson, a high school boy and comic-book geek who became a costumed character he called "Kick-Ass" in the 2010 movie of the same name. That same year, he was seen as John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy."

He brings a sensitivity, conflicted soul and a fresh face to a story with, right off the bat, an unbelievable premise. The idea that two men would happily share one woman -- who was smoking what when they came up with that plot line?

In her opening voiceover narration, the young woman with the Shakespearean name says, "Just 'cause I'm telling you this story doesn't mean that I'm alive at the end of it. It's that kind of a story where things got so out of control."

That includes the ending, with its destructive case of double vision. Without serving as a spoiler, it plays unfair mind games with the audience and is more likely to leave moviegoers angry or annoyed than assuaged.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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