I feel like Oliver Stone should be a better filmmaker than he is. With Savages, I was hopeful of an opportunity to see something insightful about the difference in drug industries of California and Mexico, and the relationship between them, government, and the likely future of legalization. After all, the current drug wars along the border are one of the more pressing issues of our time and are not discussed enough. Stone, with his interest in Latin America displayed in the excellent documentary South of the Border, seemed a capable person to bring such a story.
Savages has many interesting elements, even if it doesn't have the ambition that I might have liked to see, something that would follow naturally from something like Traffic. Stone however undercuts what he has with way too many indulgent flourishes including cuts to B&W or various color filters for no clear purpose. Occasionally narrated by O (Blake Lively), this is the story of the interaction between a pair of California growers Chon and Ben (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) and a Mexican cartel that includes Lado (Benicio Del Toro), Alex (Demian Bichir, who gave one of the best performances of last year in A Better Life) and Elena (Salma Hayek). The young Americans are a bit in over their heads and things quickly get out of control.
This is a film that I'd say sits uncomfortably in its treatment of women, too often using them as mere barter, but it is a film that passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Indeed, the film's best moments are discussions between O and Elena, and the contrast with Elena's relationship with her own daughter. These quiet moments were the strength and I wish Stone had been more willing to tell the story with them and more clearly paint the web of political considerations which are hinted at but not fully developed. Instead, it too often reverts back to a reliance on gruesome action that needs to be earned a bit more with context. The highs aren't high enough to cover for all the rough patches.