Oliver Stone has given us a look inside some intriguing sides of life – politics, historic figures, drugs. Whether attention to truth is paid or we’re given a fictionalized version, you cannot deny Stone’s innate ability to pull you in and take you on a memorable cinematic journey. His latest film, Savages, once again puts us face to face with a world we may never experience outside of a dark theater. And as dirty, sexy and violent as it is, Savages, which is adapted from Don Winslow’s novel, delivers plenty of twists, turns, and characters who are larger than life.
“The world is living in a larger than life fashion in general,” Stone told us during the film’s L.A. press day. “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.”
As an adaptation, there are so many layers between the story and each character. How, as a filmmaker, did you prioritize what you knew had to stay and what could possibly be edited out?
Stone: Oh, we cut a lot. The book is 120 scenes. I think we only in a movie have 30 scenes to play. We had to make decisions in script, we made decisions in the editing, we had to consolidate so much and 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. Don Winslow 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. We have some good deleted scenes that you’ll see one day that are fun, but they had to go. Benicio’s home life among them.
Stone: And Uma Thurman was Blake’s mom.
That Blake is Blake Lively of “Gossip Girl” fame. She, along with Academy Award® winner Benicio Del Toro, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch and Academy Award® nominees Salma Hayek, John Travolta and Demián Bichir make up a heavyweight cast of characters struggling for control and survival.
Blake said you like your actors to argue with you.
Stone: I do!
As far as their roles and how they see it versus how you see it, do you like that conversation with the actors?
Stone: I think it’s good that every actor is the best advocate for his own; he’s a lawyer for his own defense. And a good actor will be thinking, feeling, questioning, and Blake was one of the most aggressive in terms of questioning everything in the script.
Stone may have enjoyed the actors pushing back during filming, but for a movie that puts the Baja (Mexican) Cartel in the spotlight, he may get a different reaction from those south of the border.
Did you take into consideration the different perceptions that audiences on both sides of the border might have about the film?
Stone: Well, we’re going to Mexico right after we open here. That’ll be our first country and we’ll find out. 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. Having made several movies about drugs including Scarface…it’s funny, when I did Scarface, you would’ve thought that it was a cartoon, but they modeled themselves after him. Then the Scarface character became a bit of a cliché, but so many of them acted like him. What I saw in Miami with my own eyes is larger than life. And what I see in Mexico is larger than life. I’ve met quite a few of the growers here, grow ops in California. It’s an interesting time.
With something like this happening, a cartel coming here [to the U.S.] and then getting involved with these kids, is there fear in showing the movie?
Stone: It’s prophetic. I did go to Mexico and did talk to a few people who are heavy down there, on both sides of the fence, legitimate and otherwise. We had a DEA agent, and we had computer consultants. This is a hypothetical fiction. This is not Traffic. Traffic [is a] wonderful movie, but it’s much more documentary-like. This is a hypothetical situation; it hasn’t happened yet and it allows us to imagine. You can imagine the worst. I think that would be better news for you, but you could also imagine there has not been any kind of major violence on this side of the border yet except McCall in Texas, minor events so far, but nothing big has broken. It’s in the interest of the Mexican cartels to keep it south because if they start to move here, they’re going to get a lot of bad publicity and there’s going to be a lot of consequences. They are here, they are growing, and we know that. There’s been buzz and we know that they have Indian land, we know they’ve grown and they may have deals here in California because this is a natural…the best laboratory in the world is now here.
Questions of the real cartel versus the film’s versions can go on and on, and so can the arguments about the film’s ending. There will be no spoilers here at The Seven Sees, but during the movie’s press day, Stone was very polite when asked to discuss the controversy.
“I think you have to say that there are twists and turns in this movie,” says Stone. “Some of them are pretty wild and there’s a lot of them actually if you start counting back. A lot of relationships are discovered as you go, so it does pick up its momentum.”
He finally ends the conversation with, “There are just a lot of surprises.” Which heralds back to how he sees the world in an “era of no rules.” So why should filmmaking be any different. If things went exactly as we expected or hoped, there’d be nothing to write about. Savages, however, will have audiences talking and thinking long after the credits role. But, then again, it wouldn’t be an Oliver Stone film if it didn’t.