Until everyone got distracted by senior commend skirt chasing, it sure felt like the national discussion this week was going to be all about the role of military advisers in the entertainment industry. Oliver Stone's Savages (out now on a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy/UltraViolet 4-way combo pack) and the studio sent us "Military Consultants" clip from the Bly-ray. It features actor and Army vet Jake McLaughlin and military consultant, stunt coordinator and retired Navy SEAL Keith Woulard talking about how they contributed their real-life expertise to the movie.
Stone has never been shy about his own service in Vietnam and used that experience to great ends in Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. He's also maintained that background gives him extra insight when he's floated the elaborate conspiracy theories that fueled JFK and his new TV series Untold History of the United States. Savages, based on the excellent novel by Don Winslow, feels a hell of a lot more like his genre crime movies Natural Born Killers and U Turn.
Savages suggests that the modern legal pot dispensary business is on a collision course with the Mexican cartels and that collision will involve Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who smuggled the world's best cannabis seeds back from the front and used them to create a super strain of weed that blows away the "Walmart" junk from south of the border.
For all the talk of "realism" here, there's nothing to suggest that anyone with a security clearance spilled any secrets here. The fact is we make our living here at Under the Radar writing about the connections between showbiz and the Pentagon. When those connections are government-approved (Act of Valor, Battleship, Stars Earn Stripes), everything's cool. When a guy like "Mark Owen" decides to speak without the proper clearance (No Easy Day), the blowback is fierce and seems to have burned his fellow SEALs who consulted on the new Medal of Honor: Warfighter video game.
Here's the facts: movie and game studios want to pay veterans with security clearances to give credibility to their projects because customers seem to care about that stamp of approval. That includes our readers, because these are exactly the kind of stories that get read and commented on by you guys.
Savages includes some fantastically hammy performances from John Travolta, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro and Demián Bechir that are unfortunately dragged down by less interesting work by the three young leads: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively and Aaron Johnson. This was supposed to be a big year for Taylor and Savages was supposed to be the art picture that came out after his movie-star turns in John Carter and Battleship. After those two crashed and burned, this movie's modest success is looking like his best calling card for the future.
The movie looks fantastic, with hyped-up color that makes SoCal look like a giant Mexican market. There's a rambling, off-the-cuff commentary track from Oliver, a slick making-of documentary and a handful of deleted scenes. There are an extra nine minutes of detailed blood and violence in the Unrated Edition, so if you saw this in a theater and found it a little soft, you might give this another chance in the Redbox. DVD looks fine but doesn't quite compare to the Blu-ray. UltraViolet streaming to an iPad looks almost like a DVD and it seems like the engineers who master this stuff are learning how to make that format work. No word yet on the iTunes download: the movie wasn't available at first on release day and then the servers were jammed. Check back later for a report if you care about that.
So, Oliver Stone is never dull. Savages looks great, the good parts are really good and the boring parts probably aren't boring enough to make you turn off the movie. Should we worry about bloody cartel/vet showdowns on the beaches of Orange County after legal pot threatens the Mexican business model? Probably not, but Savages makes almost makes it fun to think about.