For major Hollywood studios, Fourth of July weekend typically sees the unleashing of pirates, robots, vampires, superheroes, and extraterrestrials in multiplex seat-fillers—not exactly the cinematic sweet spot for our most consistently controversial auteur. “It’s all new to me,” says Oliver Stone, whose latest film, Savages, is out July 6. (The only other time one of Stone’s 19 movies opened during the summer was when Natural Born Killers premiered in late August of 1994—“during the dog days,” the director says with a laugh. “The studio didn’t have much faith in that one.”) The oft-misunderstood Stone has been called many things—a paranoid propagandist (JFK), an advocate of corporate greed (Wall Street), a misanthropic menace to society (Natural Born Killers)—but never a director of easygoing popcorn fare.
Savages, though, based on Don Winslow’s 2010 crime novel, has a certain summer-movie marketability—or, at the very least, it does not want for sex, drugs, guns, or hot young actors. The story revolves around marijuana dealers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), who share a thriving business, an oceanside house in Southern California, and a beautiful girl named O (Blake Lively). But the threesome’s stoner idyll is shattered when the icy queen of a rival Mexican cartel (Salma Hayek) orders O’s kidnapping—the first offensive in a brutal turf war, parts of which were filmed on location in the desert outside Los Angeles. “It’s a wild ride drenched in romanticism,” Stone says. But in the aftermath of Ben and Chon’s blood-soaked blaze of glory, there are, as in most stories the director touches, some troubling moral questions. “Where is the line between necessary and unnecessary violence?” Stone asks both himself and the viewer. The answer, he hopes, will be implicit. After all, he says, “it wouldn’t be an Oliver Stone movie if there weren’t some miscommunication, would it?”