‘Savages’ review

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Savages tells the tale of two best friends, hard-headed ex-soldier Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and chillaxed Buddhist Ben (Aaron Johnson) who, along with their communal girlfriend O (Blake Lively), start up a flourishing business cultivating and selling weed.

When they cross drug overlord – or rather, overlady – Elena (Salma Hayek), things take a turn for the violent and O is kidnapped, sending Ben and Chon on a bloody, explosive journey to get her back.

It seems to be a love story dressed up as a stoner-movie, only the love story isn’t between Chon, Ben and O, it’s between Chon and Ben. Kitsch and Johnson have great on-screen chemistry and play against each other well – Kitsch’s “cold metal” to Johnson’s “warm wood”, as O’s breathless narration tells us. The relationship is one of the things about Savages that really works. You invest in their characters, Kitsch talks as though he’s actually been through a war while Johnson, complete with Trustifarian dreadlocks, portrays Ben’s non-violent personality to great effect.

What also works is Salma Hayek’s turn as Elena: psychotic, beautiful and loaded with attitude. She has no problem watching torture in her pyjamas or threatening to slit someone’s throat over dinner, all while having an undying desperate love for her only daughter. In fact, by the end she is the only character you feel for.

Benicio Del Toro could easily turn out to be one of this year’s best villains. Ridiculous hairstyle aside, he’s truly frightening. A scene where he leers over O and breathes dope-smoke into her mouth, leaving a gross string of saliva as he pulls away, makes the skin crawl. And a brief but chilling rape scene doesn’t help either.

Lively is the spanner in the works, unfortunately. Director Oliver Stone seems to want to keep reminding us how stunning the Gossip Girl star is by training the camera on her face for long periods of time, but sadly this doesn’t detract from the fact that O is unbelievably irritating. “I wanted to feel something real” she tells Elena at one point, sounding less like a drug-pedalling siren and more like a bratty teen who just wanted to piss her parents off. It boggles the mind as to why Ben and Chon would go to such lengths for this girl besides her looks.

The dialogue is also wincingly lame at times (see the cold metal/warm wood comparison from earlier) and the film as a whole tries too hard to be quirky (O’s entire voice over), but there’s still enough here for an entertaining night at the movies.

Released in UK cinemas on Friday 21st September 2012 by Universal Pictures.

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