Savages is an interesting animal of a film. It’s 95% of a great movie with the ending completely and inextricably ruining everything good about the film. I’ve never seen an ending completely sink a film as badly as Savages. I loved this film right up until the final two minutes and let with the worst taste in my mouth! If anything the ending feels like a Hollywood last-minute change and/or director Oliver Stone taking the script and adding it in at the last second with no one’s knowledge; that’s how out of place it feels. Before that is two hours of a gritty tale filled with fine performances from actors who have done nothing but let me down this year. If you go see it I can’t stress enough: LEAVE AFTER THE FIRST ENDING!
Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch) are the premier marijuana producers in Laguna Beach. With their beautiful shared girlfriend O (Blake Lively) the boys turn down a distribution deal with a Mexican cartel. When the cartel’s head Elena (Salma Hayek) doesn’t like the boys’ disrespect she has O kidnapped. With O’s life on the line, Ben and Chon have to decide how far they’re willing to go to get their girl back.
This probably won’t resonate with the majority of readers but I adore the source material for this film. I had a lot of trepidation seeing this considering how amazing author Don Winslow wrote the original story. Suffice it to say, Oliver Stone translated about 95% of the book to film and it all worked. The story is gritty and not afraid to show the carnage the Mexican cartels are to shed in order to remain in control. The power struggle in the cartel system is interesting in showing how close to our doorstep their strength extends. The various layers of the film including O’s kidnapping, Elena’s convoluted relationship with her daughter, and pacifist Ben unleashing his inner “savage” is all done with thought and an ability to push the boundaries in terms of violence. If you want an example of adapting a book well (for the most part) Savages succeeds. As a stand-alone film Savages has action, horror, and a hint of romance (and a few graphic sex scenes that are getting a lot of attention).
The acting is what set me back in terms of how consistent the quality is. Taylor Kitsch finally discovers a role where he excels. I didn’t believe he was an Iraq war veteran but the determination and strength he shows as Chon made me ignore that character trait. There’s a malice he shows in a few scenes that feels genuine, and his chemistry with Aaron Johnson’s Ben is strong (and according to Elena in a hilarious one-liner, there’s some gay subtext to be found). Johnson shows the greatest transformation as Ben. He comes to epitomize the term “savage” in having to go from sweet philanthropist to murderer. Salma Hayek also shows she should do villain roles as she is amazing as Elena. Blake Lively isn’t given too much but she also had me convinced.
In terms of acting the weakest link is Benicio Del Toro as the despicable Lado. He’s the definition of a mustache-twirling villain; literally he twirls his mustache throughout the entire film. Many consider him an offensive Mexican stereotype, I found him to be a grating baddie. I won’t spoil the ending but suffice it say it ruins the goodwill the movie builds up over its two hours. It’s one of those “gotcha” endings that is beyond stupid. Nitpickers are saying it’s meant to be a satire of “last stand endings” and I cry bull on them. The film is never established as a satire at all, and having O narrate the movie, being privy to things she’s not there for and/or has no knowledge of makes no sense. The “first” ending also makes no sense then if the second ending is true and in that case Stone glorifies the drug trade and lets rapists go on to fame and fortune with his second ending. The ending of the film is a blatant Hollywood happy ending that smells like studio tampering and/or Stone trying to continue on this happy trend he’s had with his recent films. Either way the ending of this movie will make you angry and will color your views on the movie in general so if you want to enjoy the movie as intended, leave after the last-stand portion.
Oliver Stone is trying to make sweet movies out of unlikable situations (see W. and Wall Street 2 as examples) but here it doesn’t work. The ending is atrocious and really ruins the film as a whole. Without it, Savages is a return to form for the director…if only it didn’t have that ending.