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'Savages' turns out to be a twisted tale of love and business worth seeing

Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 18:07

Savages

Starring Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively

Directed by Oliver Stone

Rated R

Opens Friday

Grade: B+

“Savages” is an unexpected movie with an unconventional storyline. It’s unexpected because it’s really good and unconventional because “Savages” has something more; something unique to the genre. Underneath the façade of sex, violence and pot smoking, “Savages” is a love story.

The idea of love and its use as motivation for whatever action movie journey that takes place, has always been short changed. Why spend time building the character relationships when there is a bunch of stuff to blow up? The answer is that without proper motivation, there is no reason for any of the violence to happen.

“Savages” goes a step further, illustrating the idea that if you love someone, they are worth every bullet shot and received. Now we can get into the semantics of love, the types and their representations in movies. But “Savages” showcases a specific type, the real root of the story. The love shown here is between two men and one woman, acting as a complete unit –and each member is an equal complement to the others.

It likely would have opened a few more doors and turned a few more heads if the men here, Taylor Kitsch’s Chon and Aaron Johnson’s Ben, shared a true sexual relationship. Bi-sexuality in any form really isn’t showcased in a movie where that’s not the focal point of the entire story. Particularly with men.

But here, it seems that Ben and Chon share a more platonic, brotherly relationship, and they equally share Blake Lively’s Ophelia, nicknamed O. The potential for sexism here is very high and really it’s up to individual perception to see how that one plays out, but really it’s a challenge to the idea of the one true love, not being one person, but two.

The story is this: Set in sunny California, Ben and Chon have developed a sprawling empire based on two important facets. Business before violence and some of the best weed ever grown. The duo is approached by the Baja Cartel, run by Salma Hayek’s Elena and Benicio Del Toro’s Lado. The cartel wants in on Ben and Chon’s business, not only for their primo product but their client base. When refused, the cartel kidnaps O, and promises to return her after a year of dedicated service.

What follows is more akin to the traditional David and Goliath story; two small time pot dealers versus people who have no qualms with decapitating enemies to make a point. With Chon’s military training, Ben’s business acumen, and the help of John Travolta’s shady DEA resources, the action is both satisfying and intense when their no-violence theory is put to the test.

“Savages” succeeds in its characterization. Each main character gets a clearly defined personality and an arc of progression. Chon is an Iraq War veteran, and while he is the more violence-prone of the bunch, he is also the most willing to sacrifice himself for O. Ben is the pacifist, using Buddhism as his personal roadmap and sharing his weed-grown profits with third world countries. Salma Hayek is a woman in power, forced to direct the shady characters in her business while still trying to connect with her daughter. Lastly, Benicio Del Toro, the master of portraying the scumbag extraordinaire does something really interesting here. While he could be described as evil, he and all the perpetrators of violence, operate by insane pragmatism. It’s just business.

When O is kidnapped, for example, she’s given room, internet and plenty of food, and is given the barest of compassion because not doing so would be bad for business.

“Savages” is not a perfect movie, with some of the ham-fisted dialogue getting in the way of the story and Blake Lively’s voiceover narration hurting more than helping. Her character gets the least definition and progression despite being the goal of the storyline. Regardless, “Savages” is a fantastic movie that tests the open mindedness of an audience, introduces a believable love story and does so while blowing up a bunch of stuff.

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