Savages Interview: Oliver Stone Explores Love & Drugs

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Bringing a wildly popular book to the big screen can be a thankless task. But with Savages, Oliver Stone had the help of the novel’s author Don Winslow. Stone tells us, in our Movie Fanatic interview, that it was still one difficult effort.

Oliver Stone Directs John Travolta in Savages

“Oh, we cut a lot! The book is 120 scenes. I think in a movie we only have 30 scenes to play. We had to make decisions in the script. We made decisions in the editing. We had to consolidate so much. There's so many things different in the movie than the book, you have to read the book to understand that. But definitely the book inspired me,” Stone said.

Stone speaks highly of the author and working with him to craft a powerful piece of cinema from Winslow’s bestselling book. “Don did a great job of writing it and knew that world and it really gave me the desire to make a movie about it that was fresh -- but ruthlessness in terms of having some good deleted scenes that you'll see one day that are fun, but they had to go.”

Savages follows a romantic threesome and how the two males (Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson) find their booming marijuana business being encroached on by a Mexican drug cartel headed by Salma Hayek. When they refuse to cut the cartel in on the action, the guys’ girlfriend O (Blake Lively) is kidnapped.

With the real life drug war looming over every frame of film, Stone is not worried about the reaction from Mexico. In fact, our south of the border neighbor is high on his premiere list for Savages.

“Well, we're going to Mexico right after we open here,” Stone admitted. Even though some may worry about the depiction of the country that sits in the middle of a hemisphere-wide drug war, Stone believes those who inhabit the land are keenly aware of that fact.

“I think people are fairly reasonable and understand the realities of the situation. I think we showed some of the cruelty. We didn't show all of it because it's too rough, but certainly you have to deal with it -- otherwise you're just sanitizing a situation that's gotten extreme.”

The auteur sites his Scarface as an example of a film reflecting the times, rather than exploiting them. “I have made several movies about drugs including Scarface. What I saw in Miami with my own eyes is larger than life. And what I see in Mexico is larger than life,” Stone said.

“The world is living in a larger life fashion in general. We are seeing entertainment become politics and we're seeing people acting out in ways that are extremely violent and destabilizing, including bankers. No rules apply. We're in an era of no rules now, it seems."

Working with his ensemble cast, as seen so brilliantly in the Savages poster, he was impressed with their strong opinions when it came to knowing their character and fighting for what they felt should be portrayed in the movie over their own director’s wishes.

“I think it's good that every actor is the best advocate for his own. He's a lawyer for his own defense,” Stone said.

Surprisingly, the one who was most commanding was Lively.

“A good actor will be thinking, feeling, questioning, and Blake was one of the most aggressive in terms of questioning everything in the script. Her character was different than the concept in the book. She always wanted to emphasize the heart and the hope that she had. She's very elegant, sophisticated and reminds me of Meryl Streep at that age. She's got the chops.”
Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson in Savages

The film could be seen as having two “endings” that audiences will discover when they witness it in theaters July 6. But, Stone does not see parallel conclusions at all.

“I think you have to say that there are twists and turns in this movie. Some of them are pretty wild and there are a lot of them actually if you start counting back,” Stone said.

“There's a romantic way out, which was from the book. You know it's very much in the girl's head, whether it being a love story or not. Whether the girl would take her own life to join one of her lovers in death was the notion in the book. If you accept that you can live with the first ending. I can't. I see the world a little bit more realistically and I love the ending of the book. It reminds me of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Stone sites dialogue from the film to further enhance his take on the ending, of course without spoiling a thing! “Blake’s character says, ‘Truth has a mind of its own.’ It happens to all of us. We all have idealism,” Stone said.

Given the helmer’s view on this film being a love story between three people, his vision of the movie’s theme is hardly a surprise. “I think the whole film is an argument for love or not love between three people. O says at the end, ‘I don't think it's possible for people to be equally in love.’”

In the end, Stone feels his film -- as evidenced in the Savages trailer -- is also quite a statement on the drug war in 2012. “By creating that false environment of a war on drugs and cruel and unusual punishment with these crimes, 50 percent of our U.S. population is in jail without having hurt anybody, mostly for drugs,” Stone added. “This is a tremendous inequality in our system.”

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Savages Review

With Savages, Oliver Stone has achieved a nice bookend to his career-starting turn as a Scarface screenwriter. That 1982 film is...

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