Why Oliver Stone's 'Savages' Stands Tall Among Classic Cartel Flicks

Cartel Queen: Salma Hayek's character in 'Savages' is merciless.

ByABC News
September 16, 2012, 10:53 PM

July 9, 2012— -- Set in Southern California, whose relative proximity to Sinaloa province to the south makes it a fertile site for Anglo-Latino crossover, the film steers clear of both the Stone-scripted Scarfaces manic Marielito masquerade and the directors conspiracy theory muckraking in JFK and Wall Street. Instead, Savages is a scandalous fable about what happens when the lost idealism of the 1960s--rekindled by the millennial generationcomes into violent conflict with big box-style capitalism run by feudal Mexican cartels with conservative family values.

Ben and Chon (Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch) are two high school buddies who pool their talents together to run a multimillion dollar marijuana business from idyllic Laguna Beach. O (Blake Lively) is their live-in girlfriend with whom they have graphic sex one-on-one, and some PG-rated spooning when all three are present. Ostensibly O likes the arrangement because Ben is a sensitive visionary and Chon is a violent ex Navy Seal sex machine, fulfilling her complex physical and emotional needs.

When the film opens, they are confronted by a heavy-handed demand by the Mexican Baja Cartel that they become part of the family. This sets up a battle between good and evil, where Ben and Chon represent New Age rugged individualism and the cartels act as if they were cable providers who came to your house and cut off your head if you didnt pay the bill.

But by casting superior actors like Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek to clash with the bland Johnson and Kitsch, Savages forces most viewers to consider the friendly neighborhood narcos as somewhat complex Latinos and not mere stereotypes. Their earthy pragmatism exposes the smug sense of entitlement and ineffectual philanthropy of elite entrepreneurs who would rather save children in Africa than the ones in South Central. When del Toros Lado storms into the house of a smarmy DEA agent played by John Travolta, with a landscaping crew wielding chainsaws, its almost as if hes saying you might think were just gardeners, but we are some bad-assed businessmen, yo.

In a concession to lipstick feminism, or more likely the Don Winslow pulp fiction novel the screenplay is adapted from, the story is narrated by O (for Ophelia, a half-baked nod to Shakespeare), who as played by Blake Lively is not much of a revelation. Despite her seemingly exotic choice of being in love with and cohabiting with two men, Lively comes off as nothing more than a sorority queen in made-from-hemp halter tops, her eroticism consisting of the blank, stoned stare of a vegan foodie at Sunday brunch.