Review: Stone back in bold form with 'Savages'
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Blake Lively, left, and Benicio Del Toro in a scene from "Savages." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Francois Duhamel)
The sun, in its various hues and levels of intensity, plays an important role in Oliver Stone's latest, "Savages."
In the beginning of this tale of sex, drugs, money and power, it illuminates an idyllic decadence. It warms everything in a glow that suggests anything is possible, in a way that's hazy and almost hallucinatory. But such a lifestyle can't be maintained forever — that's just the way these stories tend to go. And so eventually, especially in the film's bloody desert climax, the sun bakes everyone mercilessly, bleaching away the colors and revealing the characters' true natures.
Regardless of which side of the battle they're on, it's clear they've all become savages.
Sounds intense, and Stone's film is indeed a lurid, pulpy film noir but with an erotic, even dreamlike California beach vibe. It's an intriguing contrast, this mixture of a genre and an aesthetic that may not necessarily sound like they'd blend well together, but the result is the most explosively poppy film Stone has made in a long time.
"Savages" is darkly funny and stylishly violent but never reaches the overwhelming level of audiovisual assault of, say, "Natural Born Killers," for example. Directing from a script he co-wrote with Shane Salerno and Don Winslow (based on Winslow's novel), Stone draws us into this glamorous yet seedy world and draws strong performances from his eclectic ensemble cast.
Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson co-star as best friends and business partners Chon and Ben, young surfer-dude bad-asses who got rich quick growing a particularly strong strain of pot. Chon, an ex-Navy SEAL, came home after fighting in Afghanistan with the potent seeds and, understandably, some residual jumpiness from the war. Ben, who studied botany at UC Berkeley, turned those seeds into a small, independent empire, but he's a pacifist with philanthropic goals.
The two live in a spectacular Laguna Beach home with endless views of the Pacific Ocean. They also happily share the affections of their mutual girlfriend, the gorgeous, blonde O (Blake Lively), a nouveau riche Orange County princess who benefits from this arrangement in every possible way. (And there is a whole lotta masculine, muscular nudity in this film, just FYI — nearly as much as there was last week in "Magic Mike.")