July 3, 2012 by Vinnie Leduc
As the title suggests, Oliver Stone’s new film is an unrelenting and unforgiving story revolving around some of civilization’s crudest and most feral inhabitants… depending on which side you’re looking from. The shamelessly indulgent movie, one of the best drug movies in the last few years (and stemming from strains of Blow and Traffic), thoroughly entertained me for two hours. That comes as a bit of a surprise because I watched it right after The Amazing Spider-Man, which was also great and was already enough to satisfy my movie outing had Savages sucked.
As director and co-writer, Stone sets up the most violent film of the year by contrasting the movie’s vicious ferocity with an MTV-like depiction of south Orange County’s beach cities, where the protagonistic threesome enjoy a picture-perfect lifestyle of luxury and lust. But right from the get-go we already know from Blake Lively’s sultry narration and the trailer that their little communal good life won’t last and goes into a tailspin.
The thrilling ride that ensues draws plenty of blood from its subjects and plenty of laughs from the audience as well despite not being a comedy. It compensates for the too-scarce action with ultraviolent brutality, kind of like the opposite balance of The Raid: Redemption. Unless you’ve read the book that Savages is based upon, you probably won’t be able to predict how it all ultimately goes down.
Benicio Del Toro’s fear-instilling yet often humorous performance is one of the best of year, and he deserves his third Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Similar to his Oscar-winning turn in Traffic, Del Toro dominates nearly every scene he’s in, even when he doesn’t speak, as one of the most unforgettable villains in recent cinematic history. Oscar nominees Salma Hayek and John Travolta also contribute superb performances as parts of a supporting cast that includes Oscar nominee Demián Bichir and Emile Hirsch. Headlining the ensemble cast are Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, and Blake Lively (Green Lantern). Johnson does a Kick-Ass job as the yang to Kitsch’s bad-ass yin. Together they form the shared one-two punch of Lively’s boytoy tag team.
Jennifer Lawrence reportedly turned down the role that eventually went to Lively in order to star in The Hunger Games. That’s probably the right move considering that Kitsch’s two films so far this year, John Carter and Battleship, were stateside bombs. The domestic flops may have made up for their weak U.S. grosses with strong numbers overseas, something Savages likely won’t be able to take advantage of, but Kitsch isn’t exactly the lead here. This is an off-road vehicle that Oliver Stone is driving like a pro stuntman (and one that Del Toro would probably ghost-ride if he could); everybody else is just a passenger. You should be one, too, because Savages is a wild movie that’s one of my favorites of 2012. Savages gets 4.5 or A- or Excellent.