What We Disliked:one-dimensional, moronic characters; forced drama; ending is a rip-off
A trashy drug opera with the dumbest characters this side of the border. I loathed this film.
Savages has a valid point to make. Not that it matters. The film is about Ben and Chon. Ben (Aaron Johnson) double majored in botany and business. He’s also a Buddhist, and a pacifist. Chon, not so much. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and has his share of battle scars—both physical, and emotional. Together, they grow and sell the best medicinal marijuana in the world. Ophelia (Blake Lively) is their mutual girlfriend. Ophelia (she prefers “O”) narrates what follows.
A Mexican drug cartel send Ben and Chon a video showing the mutilated remains of people who wouldn’t cooperate with them. The cartel, lead by Elena (Salma Hayek), asks Ben and Chon to join them, and share their business acumen and agricultural expertise with them. In exchange, they get the cartel’s protection and millions in shared profit. Except they’re not asking. They’re telling.
Ben is ready to move on to other enterprises, and Chon doesn’t like being bullied—and tells them so in explicit terms. They ask for two days to think about it. The cartel gives them one, and expect a “yes” answer.
The trio dawdle for 24 hours, planning to take a flight out of the country the next day, but not before getting in one last three-way. They call the cartel, and make up a story, saying that they’re in. But the cartel isn’t fooled.
The cartel kidnaps O while she’s out on a shopping spree. They demand that Ben and Chon cooperate for one year. After that, they will get her back. However, O is a free spirit, and will last a week at best in captivity. Thus, Chon goes to war against the cartel, using violence and espionage as his tactics. He takes Ben along with him, who must become a savage to deal with savages.
The intent of Savages is to make a case for the legalization of marijuana, showing that when a demand is supplied by cartels instead of corporations, violence and brutality results. What’s more, a drug war–as with any war–comes at the high cost of the ideals and innocence of those who fight that war, and those who are caught up in the violence.
That’s all well and good. But ideas should never trump narrative. Horror films don’t get off scot-free when one-dimensional characters make moronic decisions because the plot needs them to, no matter what such films may have to say. I see no reason why a trashy drug opera should get a free pass.
The events following the setup require Ben to be naive and Chon to be suicidal. Insulting drug dealers comes off as foolish and self-destructive—and we’re asked to pity them. Then they let the love of their life out of their sight. Leverage should never be up for the taking—this applies to the cartel as well. Why they don’t take the cartel seriously (you know, the cartel?), especially after having watched a threatening video, I have no answer. They should be taking the next flight out of town going anywhere. Ben and Chon are guilty of hubris, and O pays the price.
But if only there were a reason to care what happens to O. The problem here is that Savages is asking us to care about O because she’s in trouble, rather than making us care about her first, and putting her in danger second. Most of her screen time prior to her capture amounts to pornography, while her incessant voice-over describes Ben and Chon, indulging in weak, indirect characterization of them. Ben is violent and Chon is not. We get it honey, enough with the metaphors.
I loathed this film, but I won’t spoil it. All I’ll say is that the film’s third act treats the audience with disdain, twice over. You’ll be lied to, and then cheated. Some payoff, eh?