Oliver Stone’s new movie, “Savages, ” a bombastic tale about the present-day drug trade between Mexico and the United States, came out last week to generally rave reviews. “‘Savages’ is Oliver Stone’s strongest work in years, ” Ty Burr wrote in his Boston Globe review , “a stylish, violent, hallucinatory thriller with both a mean streak and a devilish sense of humor. It’s not at all for the faint of heart.”
That “not for the faint of heart” sentiment, which was repeated by other reviewers, should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Stone’s film work. The former 25th Infantry Division ground pounder in Vietnam has written and directed more than a few films in which he zeroes in on ultra-violent or otherwise sickening human behavior.
That includes his Oscar-winning screenplay for that great 1978 movie, “Midnight Express, ” which was based on the true story of a young American trying to survive in a hellish Turkish prison. Stone’s Vietnam War-influenced films, “Platoon” and “Born on the Fourth of July, ” which he wrote and directed, also contain their share of eye-cringing moments. And then there’s “Natural Born Killers, ” which definitely is not for the faint of heart.
Stone co-wrote the screenplay for the new movie, based on the best-selling novel by Don Wilslow, who also gets a screen-writing credit. Kenneth Turan, in his Los Angeles Times review praised the movie writing, but had caveats about Stone’s directing.
Stone “has often shown an affinity for ruthless people acting ruthlessly, and there’s a pulp side to his directing personality that meshes well with this self-consciously amoral story of a drug-dealing ménage à trois facing off against a rapacious Mexican cartel, ” Turan wrote. “Leave the kids at home for this one. Please.”
Stone is a director, Turan said, “who has often felt that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, and his weakness for bloody excesses of all sorts undermines much of his good work. You might not think that a motion picture called ‘Savages’ could be too violent, too savage, but you would be wrong.”