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Laguna Beach entrepreneurs Ben, a peaceful and charitable Buddhist, and his closest friend Chon, a former Navy SEAL and ex-mercenary, run a lucrative, homegrown industry - raising some of the best marijuana ever developed. They also share a one-of-a-kind love with the extraordinary beauty Ophelia. Life is idyllic in their Southern California town....until the Mexican Baja Cartel decides to move in and demands that the trio partners with them. When the merciless head of the BC, Elena, and her brutal enforcer, Lado, underestimate the unbreakable bond among these three friends, Ben and Chon - with the reluctant, slippery assistance of a dirty DEA agent - wage a seemingly unwinnable war against the cartel.
For more about Savages and the Savages Blu-ray release, see Savages Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 13, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, Blake Lively, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Travolta
Director: Oliver Stone
» See full cast & crew
Savages Blu-ray Review
Natural Born Stoners.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 13, 2012
Oregon, my home state, was one of several states this year that had a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana in some shape or form, but unlike our sister state Washington, our measure lost (though not by much). This may strike some political observers as surprising, considering Oregon's reputation as a liberal haven, but the fact is large swaths of the state are resolutely "red", with only the I-5 corridor being just as staunchly and dependably "blue". Washington on the other hand has much more regularly elected Republican officials through the years, and yet quite easily passed a measure completely legalizing marijuana and in fact making it available at state run stores (kind of the equivalent to liquor stores), with attendant taxation. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire is currently in negotiations with federal law enforcement officials to work out details of how this state law—completely in contravention to federal statute—will play out. Perhaps just as surprising as the fact that Oregon's ballot measure went down in flames this year is the fact that California (long considered the bastion of the most liberal elements in the nation) didn't even have one up for a vote in 2012. That of course hasn't stopped California from being not just a major consumer of pot, but of course one of the nation's prime growing spots as well (at least in Humboldt County). The underground network of pot dealers in California is an important central plot point in Oliver Stone's fitfully interesting Savages, a film where no one is really a total good guy (or gal), and everything is cloaked in various shades of moral grays. Our putative heroes are two pot dealers who have gotten a high potency blend from Afghanistan stateside and who are now extremely wealthy due to their illegal efforts. A Mexican drug cartel isn't too happy about that, and mayhem, including a couple of kidnappings, ensues.
One of the central conceits of Billy Wilder's immortal classic Sunset Boulevard is that it's a story told by a dead man. Oliver Stone trades on that reference by hedging his bets as leading female character O (for Ophelia) narrates over an opening montage, telling us that she could be dead, but then again, maybe not. O (Blake Lively) is the shared girlfriend of two longtime buddies, Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), two guys who hit upon the bright idea of utilizing Chon's tour of duty in Afghanistan to bring back some killer weed seeds, further "enhance" them through careful cultivation, and end up with some superbud that contained hitherto unexplored volumes of THC content. This entrepreneurial activity has made Chon and Ben very wealthy. Chon is scarred by his wartime activities, while Ben has attempted to turn his good fortune into good karma by promoting a bunch of green initiatives and other helping hands (a la Habitat for Humanity) at various poverty stricken regions throughout the globe. All of this only slightly troubled paradise comes to a screeching halt one day when Chon receives a rather gruesome video from a Mexican drug cartel showing a bunch of people getting decapitated and warning Chon that he and Ben will be next if they don't agree to go into business with the drug lords.
As if the decapitation video weren't proof enough of the gang's viciousness, we next get a little vignette with Lado (Benicio del Toro), the main henchman of the group, as he nonchalantly murders a two timing lawyer and his girlfriend at what appears to be a tony Southern California mansion. Lado may be the brawn, but the brains turns out to be Elena (Salma Hayek), a ruthless businesswoman who isn't about to take Chon and Ben's initially proffered "no" for an answer. Also laying in wait is another drug lord named El Azul (Joaquin Cosio), who has plans of his own. Chon and Ben decide it's probably going to be easiest just to disappear for a while (something fostered by Ben's adherence to Zen Buddhism, and, no, I'm not kidding), but those plans are waylaid when Elena masterminds an abduction of O.
The ensuing cat and mouse game includes at least a few other supporting players, including John Travolta as Dennis Cain, a DEA agent who has his hand in the cookie jar and is attempting to play both sides against the middle. Chon also recruits a bunch of his war buddies to come to his aid, resulting in one spectacular take down of Elena's forces, a rout that ends up having unintended consequences, especially for Ben, who suddenly finds himself in the unaccustomed role of cold blooded murderer. Ben's trajectory in this film is probably the most interesting, if only because he actually goes somewhere from a character perspective. Chon is a die hard soldier through and through and O is little more than a damsel in distress, which means the bulk of the heavy lifting, "arc" wise, goes squarely to Ben.
There are numerous dramatic inconsistencies throughout Savages, and the film makes Hayek and del Toro such unappealingly hyperbolic characters that they seem like they've been ported over from a graphic (extremely graphic) novel. But this is easily one of Stone's flashiest, most purely cinematic, pieces in some time. It doesn't have the nonstop bravura of, say, Natural Born Killers, but it comes close at times, with all sorts of whiz-bang camera effects, several graphical elements, and, at the finale, one complete (and, frankly, maddening) sleight of hand that isn't just misdirection it's an outright emotional detour. Stone has for a long time had a hard time balancing his commanding style with something approaching substance, and Savages is another case in point. This is a relentlessly gorgeous film about some very ugly characters. It's hard to feel good about even a semi-happy ending when there haven't really been any heroes to root for to begin with.
Savages Blu-ray, Video Quality
Savages is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. Whatever shortcomings the film itself may have, the high definition presentation here is near perfection. Stone talks quite a bit in a featurette and on his commentary about his love of sun dappled climes, and he and cinematographer Dan Mindel (best known for his frequent collaborations with both Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott) capture that amber drenched ambience of Southern California perfectly. The Laguna Beach sequences here are simply gorgeous, with lovely teal colored water, baking white beaches and a serene clarity that contrasts rather nicely with the "smoky" subject matter. Fine detail is exceptional throughout this presentation, further enhanced by Stone's decision to frame many shots in extreme close-up. Stone plays with various stocks and also color grades quite a bit of this feature (including rendering some brief sequences in black and white), and it all looks spectacular on this Blu-ray. There are one or two extremely minor and momentary banding issues, typically with bright sunlight aimed directly at the camera, but otherwise this is a crisp and extremely appealing looking transfer.
Savages Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Savages features a nicely immersive lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. (For the record, there's also a standard lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mix available on this Blu-ray as well.) The sound design here is rather aggressive in several key action sequences, where everything from the sudden punch of a gunshot (not to mention the resulting splatter of blood and, occasionally, cranial material) to the roar of engines and helicopters floods the surrounds and sets the listener firmly in the center of some very well rendered sonic activity. But even in the quieter moments, as in the relatively peaceful opening act, there are some very nicely immersive moments, including the gentle wash of ocean waves against the beach below the home shared by Chon, Ben and O. This film might have just slightly fewer of the nonstop source cues of some of Stone's other pieces (though there's one especially dunderheaded use of a classical cue that defies explanation), but dialogue and effects are very well mixed. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide.
Savages Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Savages Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Savages boils down to a revenge film, but it's tarted up with so many extraneous plot machinations and stylistic flashiness that the grittiness of the core storyline gets lost at times. Still, this is one of Stone's most gorgeously shot recent films (if you don't mind the occasional decapitation, random shooting, and body being set on fire). The film is relentlessly breathless, which actually helps it overcome some of its dramatic stumbles, but its attempts to briefly interject some humor (mostly courtesy of Travolta's character) never seem nearly as funny as del Toro and Hayek playing not just to the second balcony, but evidently to some far off planet. Those who can stomach the mayhem and who won't mind the logical inconsistencies of this film may want to check it out on style points alone. Others may want to recycle their old VHS of JFK instead—it actually makes more sense than this film a lot of the time.
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Savages Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Savages - November 5, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Universal Studios Home Entertainment are offering five members an opportunity to win a copy of director Oliver Stone's Savages, starring Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta and Blake Lively. The drug-addled ...
• Savages: Unrated Edition Blu-ray - August 21, 2012
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release a combo pack edition of acclaimed director Oliver Stone's Savages (2012), starring Aaron Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively. The release, which includes an unrated edition of ...
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