O is the narrator and central figure of Savages. She works for and dates Ben and Chon, two friends who run the largest independent medicinal marijuana farm in California. After receiving a threatening tape from the representative of a Mexican drug lord, Ben and Chon meet to discuss the future of their business. When they refuse to give a cut the potential partners a cut, the rival drug lord kidnaps O to force their hand into large scale drug peddling.

savageskidnapping Savages Review (Film, 2012)

O is captured as collateral in Savages

Savages is a messy film. There is no other way to describe it. Oliver Stone has a clear vision for the tone he wants to set. This is a vicious modern crime noir film shot in bright daylight rather than dismal shadows. The film has an oppressive tone and style that doesn’t exactly serve all the scenes adapted from Don Wislow’s novel Savages.

When the film works, it’s brilliant. Salma Hayek plays Elena, the Mexican drug lord, and she sinks into a very complex role like no one else in the film. She’s a ruthless criminal who lets her surviving children run free to protect them from prosecution. They hate her and she hates that they hate her. She almost views O as a daughter figure and manages to provide a better life for her captive than she had when left to her own devices in California.

savageselena Savages Review (Film, 2012)

Elena is an easy woman to please. Just do whatever she asks.

The brutality of the crime is another shocking strength of the film. The story pits Ben’s team of Iraq War veterans against Elena’s drug running militia in a high stakes games of espionage. You can’t root for anyone because all of their actions are despicable. No one walks away clean from these criminal encounters and that’s part of what Oliver Stone wants to explore.

The problem is that it just doesn’t all add up. A lot of time is spent in the first forty minutes or so introducing all of the characters, big and small, in the story. Savages is spinning its wheels to load up on background before anything of interest happens. It just feels like a dark episode of a CW drama.

Then the film starts to jump between rich and disturbing narrative scenes and more character development. For some odd reason, the two rarely intersect. It’s almost like Oliver Stone doesn’t trust the audience to pick up on all his nuances, so he plays them out two times each with more obvious details the second time around.

We get it. O is a lost girl in the world of crime. Ben and Chon have to get their hands dirty if they want to keep thriving. Elena isn’t just a vicious criminal and everyone wants her level of power. Now do something with it.

Savages is perhaps a bit too meandering and obsessed with its own conceit–just because O tells the story doesn’t mean that O is alive in the end–to actually focus in on the meat of the story. There is a tight ninety minute crime noir film buried in well over two hours of moody violence. The concept is strong but undermined by too much exposition.

Rating: 4/10

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