(sav•age) adjective Fierce, violent, and uncontrolled; noun A brutal or vicious person; verb Attack ferociously and maul. In a term that could apply to anything and/or anyone, Oliver Stone’s new crime-thriller “Savages,” based on Don Winslow’s best-selling novel, shows us the two sides of the coin.
Featuring the all-star ensemble cast of Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, Emile Hirsch and Demian Bichir; the film tells the story of Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben and Chon, who enjoy a quiet, free and easy lifestyle, made possible by their lucrative business: raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with Ophelia, O. All of this crumbles down when the Mexican Baja Cartel demands a partnership the trio refuses, and so begins a series of increasingly vicious ploys and high-stake maneuvers in a savage battle of wills.
This movie has a lot of twist and turns, some of them pretty wild, so don’t get comfortable thinking that what you’re seeing is it. “The book inspired me. Winslow did a great job writing it and knew that world, and he really gave me the desire to make a movie about it that was fresh,” said Stone in a recent press conference. But he wants to make clear that the story is fictional, “this is a hypothetical situation, it hasn’t happened yet and it allows us to imagine.”
“When I read the novel, I was really impressed with, not only the way Winslow tells the story, but how accurate everything was,” said Bichir. For the actors it was a no brainer when Stone came calling. “And of course, if Oliver Stone calls, you say yes, and that’s that, you don’t even ask,” he added. “Oliver Stone, the cast, the story. That makes you want to get up and work. That’s the order pretty much,” said Del Toro.
Hayek, in what Bichir calls “one of her best works ever,” plays the head of the Baja Cartel, Elena Sanchez, a ruthless leader with a soft spot. By being a mother herself, Hayek was able to give the character more layers and depth. “Being a mother helped me find some of the humanity of the character. But being a mother can make you find the toughest, the inhumanity of the character because you, as a mother for your children, are willing and capable to do anything. The point is, yes it helps you find the vulnerability, but it also helps you find the fearlessness,” she said.
Tapping into Elena’s vulnerability was Lively’s O, a character she describes as “so graphic, so violent.” But Stone had no doubt of Lively’s capabilities to tackle this intense role, even comparing her to a young Meryl Streep. “She always wanted to emphasize the heart and the hope that she [O had, and I liked that. She’s very elegant and sophisticated,” added Stone.
Some of the contradictions seen in the story, the good being the bad and the bad being the victim, are seen on screen as well, where actions are violent and raw but the images are vibrant and colorful. The director prefers shooting his movies in anamorphic format, and he has an explanation for that, “film is still, to me, without a doubt, 15-20 percent better than digital. In its range, in its blacks, the depth of its blacks. When you see this movie, the colors pop, and I love that.”
It’s not surprising that Stone’s latest movie comes with a political message behind it, his way of keeping it relevant. Deep down “Savages” could be compared with our current economic situation, where big corporations want to take over smaller successful businesses and we all know the outcome, but at what price?