Oliver Stone has always hit home runs controversially and commercially, but lately he’s been striking out critically. Savages, which came out back in July, is a break from Stone’s controversial oeuvre. Revolving around a drug cartel kidnapping and an unlikely friendship, Savages is one well-crafted, sexy-ass slugfest. It’s more U-Turn Stone than W. (I have no idea what Wall-Street: Money Never Sleeps was supposed to be) and despite its mediocre run in theaters (nothing this summer fared well in the shadow of The Avengers), it was one of the most entertaining films of summer 2012. Hit the jump to find out how the Universal Blu-ray holds up.
Savages begins in black and white. We’re on a beach and Ophelia (O, for short - Blake Lively) is narrating. From the information she’s giving us, we’re not sure whether she’s alive or dead. After this brief prologue, death continues to hover over everything in the film. And I’m not saying that just because people get their heads cut off by heavies wearing skeleton masks. Death is a theme that pops up and is played with frequently in the film – from the La Santa Muerta (St. Death) paraphernalia to the motivation of pretty much every character in a film populated by anti-heroes and scumbags.
Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is an ex-soldier and co-owner of an independent, highly lucrative weed business. He saw a lot of shit over in Afghanistan and he’s clearly not afraid to die protecting what he loves. Also, “Chon” is the weirdest name ever. The whole time I thought it was Sean or John. His best bud is Ben (Aaron Taylor Johnson), the other half of the weed business. He’s a Buddhist and uses his wealth to become a philanthropist – making him the polar opposite of Chon. They’re an unlikely duo who I honestly don’t think would hang out in real life. But they live together on the beach, run a massive weed business, and even share the same girl, O.
The film subverts our expectations by not making a big deal out of this consensual love triangle. In her narration, O casually addresses it, and its uncommon arrangement is mentioned a few other times, but it’s never made to seem all that controversial. It’s the boys’ love for O that makes the Mexican cartel kidnap her when business dealings turn sour.
The cartel is headed by Elena, played by Salma Hayek with a bizarrely comical haircut. Elana’s main muscle is Lado, played with the utmost nastiness by Benicio Del Toro. Holy God does Del Toro know how to play the villain. You can practically smell the dirt, gun oil, and tobacco he gives off. He hasn’t been this wicked since Way of the Gun. On the screen, Lado is death. His gang poses as a landscaping crew (cleverly subverting the stereotype) who run interference while he takes care of business.
Playing both sides is Dennis (John Travolta), a DEA agent whose wife is dying of cancer. This is Travolta’s first role since the tragic death of his son in 2009 and it’s a brief role but a great comeback. The man’s always been a natural and his role in Savages takes it to the next level. He wears pretty much no makeup and embraces his severely receding hairline. It’s no surprise that the best scene in the film is between Travolta and Benicio.
Death haunts the entire film, but surprisingly death is cheated during the film’s climax. And it sucks. The ending looks and feels like a Levi’s commercial. It doesn’t take too much away from the film’s greatness though. The action is fantastic and well-crafted with real stunts rather than CGI. The disc’s “Stone Cold Savages” making of feature (34:00) provides an in-depth look into these set pieces as well as every other aspect of the film, from casting to editing. It discusses Stone’s many consultants on the film, such as his “cannibis consultant” who ensured the weed looked real and the ex-DEA agent who showed the actors how to carry themselves.
There’s also 16 minutes of deleted scenes. There’s a flashback to Chon’s childhood, more of Salma and her daughter on the phone, but nothing really juicy. Stone’s commentary, on the other hand, is worth a listen. The guy never stops talking. It’s not all dull production details either. He discusses how his personal distrust towards corporations and cops tied into the subject matter and the production itself.
Savages is presented in 1080p in 2.40:1 widescreen. The high-def transfer is pretty damn perfect. Stone’s a fan of experimenting with different film stocks and everything he throws at you transfers nicely here. The sun-drenched locales of Southern California look fantastic on Blu. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix immerses you in everything from the waves of the ocean to the bloody firefights.
Viewers can choose form the theatrical and unrated cut. The unrated cut is 10 minutes longer and a bit bloodier. The best part is when you choose the unrated version on the menu, a box pops up reading “Are you sure?” Like, “can you handle this, pussy?” Savages is Stone’s most entertaining film in years and definitely worth a watch.