Movie Review: SAVAGES

If you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s U-Turn or Natural Born Killers, and/or have read the Don Winslow novel on which this movie is based, Savages is pretty much what you’d expect it to be—violent, in your face, with strong acting, dark humor, and overly saturated sun-soaked images.

Stone’s style is a good match for the story of pot growers/dealers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), living the high life in Laguna Beach, CA, with their mutual girlfriend O (short for Ophelia, played by Blake Lively). Things get ugly when a Mexican cartel led by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek) wants a piece of their business and kidnaps O to make sure the guys cooperate. But instead of rolling over and playing nice, Ben and Chon get mad and risk everything to get O back.

The three leads do an adequate job—Lively is most effective in captivity when her face is scrubbed clean of makeup and she shows her vulnerable side—but they can’t hold a candle to the veteran supporting cast. Hayek is fierce as the cartel’s leader, and just as convincing as a mother desperately trying to connect with her daughter. Benicio Del Toro seems to have really enjoyed playing Elena’s enforcer, Lado, managing to get some laughs despite his character being terrifying (think Javier Bardem’s Anton Chiguhr in No Country for Old Men). As a dirty DEA agent, John Travolta sinks his teeth into his role and chews up the scenery, too.

A couple things were less successful. First was the voice-over narration done by Lively in languid, SoCal mode; Winslow’s language is snappy and kinetic in the book. The second thing…



…was the ending was changed. It’s still in the movie, but it’s not the same. What made the novel memorable were its beginning and ending; the revision here is too safe, taking the claws out of something called Savages. Next to me in the theater, though, was a woman who had not read the book (based on her reactions) and she seemed to prefer the movie’s conclusion, so I guess it was altered for viewers like her.


Moviegoers attracted to Savages because of Stone and the cast will enjoy a solid thriller. For fans of the novel—Winslow co-wrote the screenplay with Stone and Shane Salerno—it’s a kick seeing it on screen until it gets compromised, which is ironic since Ben and Chon are all about not compromising.

Nerd verdict: Faithful Savages ’til the end

Photos: Universal



  • Reply
    July 5, 2012 at 7:10 am

    I think when I watch this again, Salma Hayak will end up stealing more scenes. She really did dominate this film. Benicio as Lado, as well. I agree, too, with your assessment about the ending: too safe. It tried to honor Winslow’s, but wanted it both ways. Fine review, Elyse.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks, le0. Did you see it with someone who hasn’t read the book? I’d be interested to hear what s/he thinks of the ending.

      • Reply
        July 8, 2012 at 6:24 am

        I went alone to the American Cinematheque preview at The Egyptian Theatre the third week in June. I sat with people who hadn’t read the book. Even they thought it weird that the film had two endings. When I mentioned the first was Winslow’s, from the book, they believed it the most genuine. Naturally, I recommended they read the novel.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          July 8, 2012 at 1:25 pm

          The lady next to me was NOT happy when the first ending went down. She kept saying, “What? WHAT?!” And then the other one happened and she said, “Phew. That’s good.” Of course at that point, I was the one thinking, “WHAT??”

  • Reply
    Rhonda Hicks
    July 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Just left the theater, and I’m not happy. Loved it until the end. Going to take me a little while to get over it. My sis-in-law had also read the book and she felt the same way I did. The rest of our group had not read it – they thought it took away from the “first” ending. Basically, we all thought it should have been left alone. I didn’t really care for O, but I thought the others did a great job.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      July 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      I’ve never really liked O because I don’t know what she wants out of life other than smoking pot and hanging with her guys. She seems to have no goals. Characters have to really want something, to be strongly motivated to do something, for me to find interesting.

      But I thought Lively had a nice scene with Hayek, and it was funny when Elena asks O if she’s thought about her future, and I was thinking, “Exactly.”

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