Oliver Stone goes to war, so to speak, again, with visceral kinetic energy in a film that recalls elements and plot points of ones like Blow, Scarface and Midnight Express (which he wrote), as well as his own Natural Born Killers. Think more of Stone's own crazy U-Turn than what made more complex, involving films like Traffic excel.
Savages (from the 2010 novel whose acerbic writer Don Winslow shares credit on the script) stars Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek, Benecio del Toro, and John Travolta as the self-described once "crazy" three-time Oscar-winning dramatist enjoys getting rough and ragged after more "conventional" tales like World Trade Center and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
A violent, drug-fueled, somewhat hallucinatory excursion (another slice of summer counter programming) can wallow even in its silly excess as the younger actorly trio are mostly dominated by their older, veteran, scene-stealing counterparts.
From Laguna Beach there is quite a loving, passionate relationship among Ben (Johnson) a peaceful, charitable Buddhist, Chon (Kitsch of Battleship), a former mercenary and Navy Seal, and native Southern Californian girl Ophelia (the film's no-so-there narrator) whom they unconditionally protect. They've developed quite a lucrative top-grade marijuana operation of growing and selling.
But, the intrusion of Mexico's Baja Cartel begins to make life difficult for the high-living potheads. Its no-nonsense kingpin Elena (Hayek) sees Ben and Chon as important to getting its edge back south of the border. To make this "offer you can't refuse" work, Elena has her brutal leading minion Lado (del Toro) kidnap the fervent O. Trouble and mayhem will escalate upon the appearance of DEA agent Dennis, done with unbalanced, unctuous flavor by Travolta (From Paris With Love, The Taking of Pelham 123). The man who has gotten by at the mercy of the dealers for some time hesitantly plays the conciliator, and the unassuming pot growers (actually criminals but not seeming that way from Stone's perspective) having to not just compromise, but go full-bore to get things back they way they were.
For some Johnson (Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy) and Kitsch (employing some of his imposing John Carter aspects) are a decent pair with Lively (effective in Ben Affleck's The Town) complementing them to a degree as an alluring slacker. One of her best moments (though many will like some early striking awkward shots) comes opposite the chicly villainous Hayek who may not be reviled as much because of a maternal streak. While del Toro delights in his deviously darkness, Travolta's crooked Dennis has more to do in a role expanded on from the book at the climax. Mention should also be made of Emile Hirsch (Milk, Alpha Dog) as the financial wheeling and dealing Spin and of Demian Bichir (A Better Life) as a grim ally of the desperate, if driven Cartel.
Of course, Stone works with a kind of effortless precision with his diligent expert craftsman to make the harsh approach more character-driven than expected with some rapid cutting and switching film and its stock as the body count and stakes grow high. With Savages he can still stoke his primal urges (probably reliving the harshness of southeast Asia) to create an insanely unadulterated cold-blooded thriller again managing to test the limits of acceptability.