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For the first time state taxes specific to the production and retail sale of marijuana in Colorado passed the total tax take from alcohol, totaling some $70 million over the past year — nearly twice the amount collected for alcohol during this same period in 2013. The majority of the state of Colorado voted for the experimental law and proving lucrative. In Washington State sales topped $95 million into the treasury in the last 18 months. Other states are set to follow, California and New Mexico next. That is heading to the UK soon, the same politicians who snort coke but fight the murderous drug war having no problem from cashing in on it.
Savages (the name given to brutal Mexican drug lords by the DEA) is a film on that subject and an Oliver Stone film too, the great lefty movie maker off piste here with a glossy and trashy action drama. As it is a Stone movie I had to rent it but he hasn’t made a decent movie since the mid 1990s so I probably shouldn’t have. In fact I was in that movie, Any Given Sunday shot in Miami and I am in the crowd scenes! My equity card has not yet arrived.
Iraq veteran Ben (Aaron Johnson) and best mate Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are high level drug dealers in the state of California, a swanky house up on the Hollywood Hills and the money rolling in. There weed is the best on the West Coast and in demand. Both are madly in love with 0 (Blake Lively), a beach bunny that likes them both an in an agreed sexual tryst. But their lives are about to be turned upside down when the biggest Mexican cartel make them an offer they can’t refuse and intend to muscle them out of California. The deal they are offered is not great. Chon is a pacifist and doesn’t want to go to war but Ben knows violence is all the cartel understands and if they don’t fight their corner they will eventually lose everything.
The plan is to walk off into the sunshine with O and enough cash to live well off the grid where the cartel can’t find them, taking the recipe for their superweed with, the formula what the cartel really want most. Enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro) has been sent to get them to sign the deal and he quickly twigs they don’t want to. So to get them to fall inline he kidnaps O for insurance, under orders from cartel big boss Carmel (Salma Hayak), who enslaves her in Mexico for one year until they do fall into line. Chon’s non violent method to resolve this has failed and so its time for Ben and his US Ranger mates to go to war with the cartel to get O back and save their business and bent and duplicitous DEA Agent Dennis (John Travolta) the man to turn to in a crisis.
It’s been a while since Oliver Stone has had a hit and this is not one of them. He of Platoon, Wall Street, Nixon and JFK has lost his way and now an establishment film maker wasting studio money with glossy silly thrillers like this. World Trade Center and Wall Street Never Sleeps appeared some kind of apology for being the edgy director he once was and you have to go back to U-Turn (1995) and Jennifer Lopez in that little red dress to register with me. For such a heavyweight he is landing very few big punches these days, Savages a feeble jab.
The concept is ok of the slow acceptance of marijuana in American society and the Ying & Yang of the trade explored through our handsome dealers. Everyone is beautiful in this movie. But its way too glossy and trashy to be classy and intelligent and yet another sign Stone is simply making movies for money which is all rather depressing. JFK and Wall Street are masterpieces and a long way over the horizon to Savages. This movie is a metaphoric West Coast sunset to his career.
Its budget of $45 million pulled back a decent $83 million to date but the comic book feel and very average dialogue gives you no clue this is an Oliver Stone movie. Guys like Antoine Fuqua and Toby Scott do this stuff much better. The ending is really disappointing and looks screen tested to me and at no point is their intrigue or a gritty exploration of drug polis in America. Oliver Stone in his prime would never let the audience decide any of his work. Directors do that to keep the studio sweet and the money rolling in. In a way Stone is dealing movie dope with stuff like this. I’m very disappointed with Savages from such a classy filmmaker and although one or two good action sequences it ends up a headstone for a once great auteur.
When it comes to naming legendary directors, Oliver Stone's name is certain to be amongst them. especially when you look at his directorial body of work which includes such classic movies such as Salvador, Wall Street aswell as his Vietnam trilogy (Platoon, Born on the Forth of July, Heaven and Earth). However this is not to say that he has not made a few less than legendary directing choices such as the overblown historical biopic "Alexander". Still after his last film the fantastic and long awaited "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps" it looked like he might be back on track.....then of course I saw this movie.
Ben (Aarron Taylor-Johnson)and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) are best buddies and pot growers. Ben is a UCLA graduate while Chon is a former Navy SEAL, making them an effective combination of brains and braun, while bizarrely sharing a hippie girlfriend, named O (Blake Lively). With their focus being on running their business with none of the usual violence associated with the drugs trade DEA Agent Dennis (John Travolta), allows the boys to get away with their set-up on account of nobody getting hurt. However Elena (Selma Hayek) who heads up a Mexican drug cartel decides she wants a piece of the peaceful action. But when the boys refuse the offer, Elena kidnaps O. But the boys won't take that lying down as they take matters into their own hands.
Originally brought to my attention when compiling my films to look out for in 2012 over at "Diamonds In Da Sky", this film seemingly has set out to reinvent the drug dealer movie and our general perception of drug dealers as being slimy and psychotic cokeheads, by instead giving us Ben and Chon, who are anything but your typical dealers, as they run their business largely violence free, outside of the occasional persuasive visit from Chon. However in his attempts to truly shatter the mould and portray these two as just two fun loving guys who happen to sell copious amounts of pot, director Stone manages to make the first to many blunders throughout this film as he paints the peace loving new ager Ben as what Jesus could possibly have been like had he sold pot on the side and even he would have a hard time keeping up with Ben, especially when painted with such holier than thou tones, with pretentious scenes such as him being shown travelling the world helping third world villages on the back of his drug profits. Meanwhile the only time we see him selling pot, it is only to those with terminal illnesses, because of course it's all about helping people and not about making the pile of cash which bought their luxury condo, things which are pretty much glossed over throughout.
Thrown into the mix we have their stoner girlfriend O, whose over written dialogue, provides the narrative throughout, while occasionally throwing out such pretentious lines like
"Just because I'm telling you this story... doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it"
Which would have been better, had it not been used awhole lot better back in 99 in "American Beauty", while loosely fleshing out their characters with the occasional burst of information, such as how they met her and how they started their enterprise, yet never properly explaining how their open relationship came to be, besides describing their sex life, which by the end of the film was possibly the only thing we really knew about these characters outside of the minimal amount of characterisation they are given. I mean how did this relationship come to be and why does she hold such power over them both? Questions which are for some reason never answered much like how they can have such a jealously free relationship. This also extends to the villains who are just as equally sketched out, with a handful of interesting facts such as Drug baroness Elena's turbulent relationship with her daughter, supposedly meaning to cover for how little we really know about these characters outside of their various actions.
Such poor attention to the smaller details, means that while we encounter several great characters, only for them to largely end up coming off shallow and no doubt would have even failed to spark even the base amount of interest, especially with the bad guys which essentially only work because of the fun performances by Hayek and Benico Del Toro who seems to be having the most fun of all the cast as the sleazy cartel underboss Lado, who I couldn't but feel was fleshed out by improvisation by Del Toro, especially during scenes such as the hit he carries out on another dealer, were as he interrogates him he tosses away anything which could be used against him as a potential weapon. The other main flaw here is certainly with the bloated two hour run time, which seems to have been a luxury only afforded because of the weight which Stone's name carries and while it might be an eventful film, it still felt that there was a lot which could have been trimmed out of the film to make for a tighter run time. Equally frustrating is that we get one ending which would have been a bold choice and almost redeeming, only for it to be scrapped and replaced with what could probably be best described as the Scooby Doo ending as I half expected Elena to be shouting "I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids!".
The film however does look really nice, with Stone once again harnessing his visual side to maximum potential and this especially comes into play during the handful of action scenes we get, even though the trailer would have you believe it to be more action packed than the pulp thriller we do get. Still even viewed like this it is hard to even recommend it as mindless trash to waste a few hours with, especially with being so bloated it more often than not left me with too much time to question such minor things, like why everyone is pretty much dressed in every sex scene the film has and what modern films have against gratuitous nudity, especially in such seemingly free thinking times?? Still any film which leaves my mind to wonder as much as that is one to be approached with caution.