CINEMA: Savage Republic


Savages (2012, Directed by Oliver Stone, 131 minutes, US)

Any fan of Oliver Stone knows that he likes to juxtapose the dark side of human nature with the more altruistic side of our makeup.  His newest effort, Savages, harkens back to the stark violence of Natural Born Killers but this time the brutality is tempered with a touch of Buddhist philosophy (Stone is a Buddhist, FYI), and the addition of a small measure of morality into some of the characters’ dispositions.   Set in the idyllic California town of Laguna Beach, the plot focuses on drug entrepreneurs Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) who share a jealously-freel open sexual relationship with the beautiful flower child Ophelia (Blake Lively).  Life is good.  The two old friends have made millions growing and distributing the best marijuana on the planet through their homegrown network.  Ben, a botanist, puts his Buddhist philosophies into practice with worldwide philanthropic efforts.  Chon, a former Navy Seal, enjoys a stoned life of leisure at their Laguna Beach retreat.  Ophelia enjoys them both — alone and together — and the trio shares a devoted and untroubled existence.  That is, until they attract the attention of the Mexican Baja Cartel, headed by Elena (Salma Hayek), who sends in strongman Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to negotiate their cut with the naïve pair of Cali entrepreneurs.  Enter the slippery, on the take DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) and Shangri La quickly transforms into the unabashed underworld of drug violence. Along with all of the ruthless cruelty, Savages blends philosophy, love, loss, loyalty and betrayal into a contemporary narrative that is compelling without being repugnant despite the violent nature of the subject matter.  Stone presents the viewer with an array of flawed characters, some who manage to garner sympathy even as they inflict pain on one another.  Conflicting emotions and motivations drive the film to an ending that leave us pondering whether we should cheer or be appalled.  Check it out.  If you’re an Oliver Stone fan, you don’t want to miss this one. — DAVID CORBO