Savages (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -8; L -5; S/N -7. Running time: 2 hours 11 min.

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of evildoers.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
turn away from it and pass on.
For they cannot sleep unless they have
done wrong;
they are robbed of sleep unless
they have made someone stumble.
For they eat the bread of wickedness
and drink the wine of violence.
Proverbs 4:14-17

Drug entrepreneuers Chon, O, and Ben live a care-free high life until a Mexican drug muscles in on them.
2012 Universal Pictures

Bring together director Oliver Stone, a Mexican drug cartel, and two American buddies running their own pot grow ing business who share the same woman in bed, and you get an explosive mix of bloody gore, sex, and exces sive drug use that I’m sure would please Quentin Tarantino. In the old days when the Hayes Code was in effect, filmmakers justified the blood and gore (but seldom could get by with much sex and drug use) on the basis that they were showing that “crime does not pay.” There were a many Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and James Cagney gangster movies wherein the gangster dies in a hail of police bullets, but before the bloody denouement they certainly lived the high life.

The American trio Stone gives us—Iraq veteran Chon (Taylor Kitsch), botanist Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Ophelia (Blake Lively)—foolishly think they can withstand a war with the Mexican cartel headed by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hyak) and her vicious henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro), even though the video that the gang sends them shows men losing their heads to a chain saw for defying them. They call the Mexicans “savages,” but in fighting back, the Americans find themselves also resorting to violence, especially when O, as Ophelia is called, is kidnapped and held hostage to force Chon and Ben into accepting the gang’s a business proposal. Complicating matters is the corrupt DEA agent Dennis, adroitly played by John Travolta, who works with the Americans for a big fee, but also does business with the Mexicans.

Stone gives us a look at a bizarre world of violence, but whether he withholds judgment, or whether he approves of the characters, you must decide. Always exciting, this film is not for everyone, appealing, no doubt, mainly to young adult males who revel in movies of blood and gore. This is not one of those movies you emerge from feeling good or reciting, “God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.”

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What kind of a moral universe do the characters operate in? What are their values?

2. Ben uses some of his money and time to benefit people in Africa: do you think he does this to salve his conscience? Do you think his benevolence justifies his illicit business?

3. What do you think of the sexual arrangement between the three Americans? Do you think the film is realistic in showing that their arrangement is a harmonious one?

4. Ben and Chon consider the Mexicans as savages, and yet when their back is to the wall, what do they do? The framing of Alex, a top aide to Elena, seems cleverly executed, but what about the consequences? Or the kidnapping of Elena’s daughter—are such acts “civilized,” or “savage” ?

5. Compare the film’s ending with the older cop films. Are Stone’s characters as black and white as in the older films? Is there really anyone that a moral person can root for, or is this “a plague on both your houses” situation?

6. Do you think the film is realistic by showing any effect of their horrific experience upon them, or do the guys live “happily ever after” ?

7. In Oliver Stone’s world is there a place for God or the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount? What might the author(s) of Proverbs say about the way this story ends?