Oliver Stone's "Savages" is a moral tangle embedded in a bloody war between two best buddies in Laguna Beach, Calif., and the queen of a Mexican drug cartel. A return to form for Stone's dark side, it generates ruthless energy and some humor. The movie is a battle between good and evil, except that everyone in it is evil -- but some are less evil than others, and they all have their good sides.
The movie opens with a narration by a girl named O (Blake Lively), who warns us, "Just because I'm telling you this doesn't mean I'm alive at the end." The plot is so twisty that this is both true and false. O lives with the two most successful pot growers in Southern California: Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a hard-edged Iraq veteran, and Ben (Aaron Johnson), a brilliant botanist. Chon handles the dangerous side of the business, Ben is the idealist, and they share O.
Life is a hedonistic feast until a video arrives one day showing Mexican drug workers whose heads have been removed. The message comes from an elegant femme fatale named Elena (Salma Hayek), who runs a Mexican cartel and wants to get a supply of their primo weed. Elena depends on her scuzzy henchman, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to enforce her desires. When Elena's team kidnaps O, we get a labyrinthine series of negotiations, in which Ben argues that they must ransom O, while Chon, less sentimental, wants to take their losses.
Now try to puzzle out the role of Dennis (John Travolta), the DEA agent who accepts bribes from Ben and Chon, who pretends to be informing on them, who may actually be informing on them, and who may also somehow hope to profit from Elena.
Try to unravel the relationship that develops between Elena and O. Listen to the discussions between Chon and Ben about the woman who was part of their so-perfect triangle. Try to track the motives of Travolta's DEA agent. No, wait. It's occurred to me that he's completely evil.
★★★; 1/2 out of four stars