Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Is Oliver Stone Always Supposed to Be Taken Seriously?

Oliver Stone’s latest full-length feature,  “Savages,” was released in July of last year in the US. It’s finally being released here uncut.

I watched it with my friend and short format movie-reviewer, Manuel, and he loved it. I left the screening room feeling like the film had some sort of identity crisis. Maybe I should blame it on the Stone films I grew up with: Salvador, Platoon (where I first laid eyes on and fell in love with Johnny Depp), Wall Street, JFK and Natural Born Killers.

He was constantly making statements about politics, the US government, foreign policy, economy, the media, reportage, war and the current zeitgeist. So there I was sitting through “Savages” and looking around for that Stone statement on the drug war, or maybe on the legalization of marijuana.

Instead I got something that was sometimes stylish, sometimes thrilling, sometimes funny, often dark, bloody and violent. While it had brutal scenes of torture and murder to depict the ruthlessness of how Mexican drug cartel’s operate, I wonder how much of it real or fantasy?

Ex-Navy Seal Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and botanist-entrepreneur (Aaron Johnson) peacenik Ben run a small independent of producing some excellent cannabis in sunshiny Southern California. Mexico’s Baja Cartel gets a whiff of this and wants in. 

O (short for Ophelia) is the woman both best friends share—which makes her a target for the cartel seeking leverage on Ben and Chon’s operations.  O is played by Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, who narrates the beginning and the end of the film.

Apart from having a ridiculously good-looking functioning love triangle at the center of story, you also have Salma Hayek as the vicious “Reyna Elena” of the Baja Cartel in her high fashion get ups and Cleopatra hair. I keep wondering if she is based on an actual character.

Rounding out the main cast is Benicio del Toro as the absolutely creepy carter “enforcer” Lado—the man who shoots, burns, tortures in the name of the drug business and John Travolta as Dennis, the DEA agent with questionable allegiances.

I thought Savages crossed a lot into Tarantino / Pulp Fiction territory.  And because of my previous view of Stone, I kept wondering whether he wanted us to take this movie seriously or not. Especially with the ending.

(I also saw “A Good Day to Die Hard” and while I heard some applause from the audience at the special screening, I thought it was downright awful. It was a textbook action movie with a forced plot, and one implausible scenario after another. I leave with a quote from an old Filipino film, “huwag mo nang buhayin ang bangkay.”)

"Savages" opens on Feb. 20 exclusively at Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma, Market! Market! and Alabang Town Center.

Do all marijuana entrepreneurs look like this?

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