Ah, “Twilight.” How ironic that a movie that's largely about saving it till marriage helped popularize a love triangle with a woman at the center. Combine this trend with an adult audience that has long since served their time in high school, and the erotic possibilities certainly get more interesting.
That love triangle, or more accurately, three-way relationship, is at the center of Oliver Stone's new film, “Savages.” Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson play pot dealers Chon and Ben, while Blake Lively is Ophelia, or O, the woman they both love and share, and is the film's narrator. Ben is the heart and brain of the relationship and the business, the do-gooder who also uses the funds to support various charitable causes. Chon is the muscle, the enforcer who steps in if things become violent, and who just so happens to be a former U.S. Navy SEAL.
The business is a clean and mostly peaceful one, with few complaints until the quality of their crop and networks draw the attention of the Mexican Baja Cartel, led by the ferocious Elena (Salma Hayek). When the cartel makes them an offer they shouldn't refuse, Ben and Chon then sense it's time for them to leave the business and make arrangements for the three of them to leave the sunny California paradise they call home. Shockingly, the cartel doesn't seem to take rejection all that well, and kidnaps O in order to inspire more obedience from the boys. Mayhem and violence soon ensue, with the pacifist Ben in particular finding himself becoming a more brutal incarnation of himself in order to save his friends.
However, the real soul of the movie lies with Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta, who play a brutal enforcer and a corrupt DEA agent, respectively. They embody their characters with a fierceness and dark intelligence that makes them both compulsively watchable and the dark, twisted heart of the film. If only everyone else was as fascinating.
While the violence is quasi-realistic in that Ben and Chon don't just openly declare war on Elena and go on a mindless, bloody rampage, it still feels like there's something lacking. Or maybe it's just missed opportunities. Stone certainly teeters on the edge of satire a few times, such as when O asks for salad in captivity, and other instances when she and Ben in particular show just how little they know about the world they've gotten themselves into. The movie is certainly a very good one, but if Stone and pushed that angle a little more, it probably could've been great. As is, it stands as a cynical, enjoyable commentary on our drug policy without being preachy or pushing the message too hard. After all, the aim here isn't really to send a message, it's to provide the audience with a flashy, gritty, enjoyable action movie. And Stone succeeds beautifully.