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Movie Review: Savages

Adapting Don Winslow’s 2010 novel Savages was never going to be easy. The book is both revelation and revolution whose joys come from its distinctive prose as its propulsive plot. Winslow’s novel feels like the culmination of years of experimentation in previous books like The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and The Dawn Patrol, albiet infused with the anger and politics of The Power of the Dog. It has strong sexual content and ultraviolence aplenty — plus, it’s funny and sad and beautiful and a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for Generation Y.

Now it’s a movie, directed by Oliver Stone, working from a script co-written by Shane Salerno and Winslow himself. In many ways, it’s an excellent adaptation of the book, honors the spirit of Winslow’s work with a deft, affecting touch. It has almost as many flaws, including a controversial ending that is sure to outrage fans of the novel.

The film begins in Laguna Beach, California — present day. Botanist Ben (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) and ex-Special Forces soldier Chon (Taylor “Tim Riggins” Kitsch) produce some of the best marijuana in the world. Ben is the brains, Chon, the enforcer — and both of them are in love with O (Blake Lively, xoxo Gossip Girl), who’s the kind of California girl Brian Wilson writes songs about. The three of them share an unusual but comfortable relationship, until the Baja Cartel, led by Elena comes calling.

When Ben and Chon spur the advances of the cartel’s generous offer to buy their business, Elena instructs the vicious, perverse Lado (Benicio Del Toro) to kidnap O. She hopes this will send Ben and Chon into her embrace. Chon has other plans, plans best summed up by Tommy Lee Jones in Rolling Thunder:

“We’re gonna kill a whole bunch of people.” Continue reading “Movie Review: Savages”

Savage Beauty, Savage Poster

One of the most anticipated films for crime fans this summer is the adaptation of Don Winslow’s revolutionary novel Savages. Directed by Oliver Stone, it’s the story of Ben and Chon, two Southern California marijuana kingpins who run afoul of a Mexican cartel. Shenanigans ensue. While Stone assembled a cast that blends established stars – John Travolta, Salma Hayek – and young stars on the verge of breakout success – Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively – images from the film have been few and far between.

Until recently, when viewers got their first look at the poster for the film. The verdict? Not bad. While the style – a series of successive images stacked atop each other – is reminiscent of other film posters, those images are powerful and striking, overall. One of my biggest concerns about Savages is whether or not Stone can capture the novel’s sense of scope. It’s a rapidly shifting book when it comes to perspective, moving from big, exciting set pieces to small, intimate moments from page to page. The top image on the poster, with its white sand, blue sky, and embracing couple, strikes that tone.

I’m also a fan of the use of color here – it’s bright, poppy, with nary a teal or orange in sight. While Winslow’s book is dark and gritty at times, Winslow at his best is fun, engaging, and reminiscent of Elmore Leonard. He’s about as hard to adapt as Leonard, it seems, so any adaptation of his work needs to have that fun, free-wheeling spirit to it.

As for the characters, Taylor Kitsch and Benicio Del Toro look like they stepped right out of the book, Blake Lively looks more like Winslow’s surfer character Sunny Day (from The Dawn Patrol) than a mall-hopping chantruce (could just be me, though) and Salma Hayek looks more than threatening enough. John Travolta, whose character is relatively minor in the book, remains a mystery, but appears to be operating in “scenery-chewing” mode.

While Stone was not my first choice to helm this project, this poster is an excellent start in the ramp up to what’s sure to be one of the craziest movies of the summer. Savages opens July 6th.

Check out the debut trailer for the film below.

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