Film Review by Kam Williams
Rival Gangs Engage in Bloody Turf War over Control of California Marijuana Trade
If you’ve seen the documentary Cash Crop, then you know that violent Mexican drug cartels have already begun to muscle their way into the U.S. to stake a claim to their share of the lucrative Marijuana market. That eye-opening expose’ suggested that it’s only be a matter of time before the same sort of wanton violence being reported south of the border also starts erupting all across this country.
Although Savages is fictional, being based on Don Winslow’s best-selling novel of the same name, its chilling account of a California turf war is so realistically depicted that you easily forget that what you’re watching isn’t a true story. The movie was directed by three-time Oscar-winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon, Midnight Express and Born on the fourth of July), who crafted this cautionary tale with a highly-stylized flair akin to Miami Vice (the TV series) while grounding the grisly goings-on with a sobering gravitas reminiscent of Traffic (2000).
The picture pits a couple of homegrown pot producers operating out of Laguna Beach against a ruthless Chicano gang that covets a piece of the action. At the point of departure, we find Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) living large at an oceanfront mansion with a view thanks to a crooked DEA Agent (John Travolta) and a very potent strain of weed that has made them millionaires several times over.
The pair complement each other nicely, since the former supplies the brains, as a Berkeley grad who double majored in business and botany, while the latter provides the brawn, as a former Navy SEAL who served a couple of tours over in Afghanistan. The buddies even share the same girlfriend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), a tatted-up blonde who professes love for both of her beaus.
The three share a hedonistic, if unconventional, existence until the day they’re paid a visit by an emissary (Demian Bichir) sent to the States by a brutal, Baja crime boss (Salma Hayek) to make the gringos an offer they can’t refuse. They grudgingly enter a partnership with the intimidating kingpin only to avoid the thinly-veiled threat of decapitation.
What ensues is a gruesome game of cat-and-mouse where it’s often difficult to discern who’s got the drop on whom. Even when the smoke finally clears in this high body-count affair, anticipate a mind-bending twist en route to a rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution.
An unsettling vision of America degenerating into a lawless dystopia like a latter-day Wild West.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, gruesome violence, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 129 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures