Vicious Laguna Lunacy

SAVAGES

Acclaimed director Oliver Stone (Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July) paints a lush, brutal and stylistically rich portrait of drug running along the Californian and Mexican border in his latest film  Savages  set between Laguna, California and Tijuana in Mexico and is almost Shakespearean in tone and plot. Savages assembles a fabulous cast including Taylor Kitsch last seen in Battleship and John Carter and Aaron Johnson, soon to be seen in the new version of Anna Karenina along with the blonde beauty Blake Lively (The Green Lantern) and a ludicrously well-cast group of veteran and independent actors including Academy Award winner Benicio del Toro, Academy Award nominees Salma Hayek, John Travolta and Demian Bechir.

Savage Shakespeare Surfer Style

While the vibrant poster for Savages suggests an intricate web of characters dealing in a Mexican-Californian trade-off, Oliver Stone imbues this complex plot of brutal treachery, violence, drug smuggling, sex and murder with an array of visual flourishes which makes Savages stand out as a unique and twisted drug running thriller making the most of the beautiful surfing paradise of Laguna, California while brilliantly contrasting that with all the devotional religious iconography so often associated with Catholic Mexico embodied in Tijuana and the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead

Oliver Stone, clearly influenced by his contemporaries Baz Luhrmann (Romeo and Juliet) and Steven Soderbergh  (Traffic) and not one to edit his narrative gives each of his main cast members enough screen time to flex their acting muscles interspersed with some exceptionally violent and brutal images of decapitation, torture and murder all adding to the central theme of beautiful savages.

Savages focuses on best friends Chon and Ben who not only share the same girlfriend Ophelia but also run a profitable and successful dope peddling operation in Southern California with the muscular Chon played by Taylor Kitsch as an aggressive Gung-Ho war veteran fresh from the horrors of Afghan conflicts and also exposed to one of the largest  opium growing region in the world. Buddhist leaning Botanist Ben comes up with a brilliant plan of producing the best cannabis in California and teams up with Chon to make sure the operation is successful with Ben as the brains and Chon as the brawn of the lucrative yet illicit narcotics operation.

Enter the Mexicans from Baja California headed by the flamboyant yet ruthless matriarch of a Tijuana drug cartel Elena played with relish by Salma Hayek with that flair which she so deftly illustrated in the remarkable film Frida. Supported by Lado,  a demonically mean killer and her trusted enforcer played with ambivalent psychopathic menace by Benicio del Toro and Demian Bichir (Che and A Better Life) as Alex the front man for the Mexicans in Laguna who are keen to infiltrate Chon and Ben’s mellow yet sophisticated dope peddling enterprise in the Surfer’s Paradise of Laguna.

What follows is an intricately plotted yet violent narrative of kidnapping, extortion, murder and vengeance which begs the question is humankind’s innate savagery endemic in a population in which survival of the species is paramount at whatever the cost? Given the right circumstances and in this film these are ruthless, every characters inner savagery is revealed in one form or another.

Savages is not for sensitive viewers and whilst Oliver Stone could have edited parts of the film one gets the visual impression that he was so caught up in the brutal Shakespearan tragedy of the entire narrative of Californian-Mexican drug running that too cut a scene would be murder. Watch out for some particularly brilliant scenes between  Lively and del Toro as captive and torturer and between Lively and the ever beautiful Salma Hayek. John Travolta’s turn as Dennis a middle income DEA officer playing both sides of the vicious Laguna turf war proves that he is still a brilliant actor.  While the ever versatile Emile Hirsch makes a small appearance as the Californian’s money launderer aptly named Spin.

As for the conclusion of Savages, its best expressed in Spanish, todo es posible – anything is possible….

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