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Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) have it made. Growing/selling large quantities of marijuana, they are supervised by a corrupt FBI agent (John Travolta), sharing a blonde-bombshell girlfriend and living in a beachfront home in Torrance, California. Their particularly potent genus of marijuana attracts the attention of a Mexican drug cartel that wants to produce this same genus, making the boys an offer they can’t refuse. They refuse anyway, and their girlfriend O (Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively) is kidnapped.

O, balancing the two contrary drug dealers (one hippy, one military), enables the safe, sexy and highly profitable business to run smoothly. She doesn’t actually do anything, aside from play the meat in the boys’ sandwich but it is up to her to narrate this crime story, suggesting, initially, that she may not be alive in its retelling – which is a superfluously enigmatic suggestion, much like everything she says. Having little to do with the business, O simply describes how her boyfriends make love to her differently and later spends much of the film blindfolded and scared.

The film offers a somewhat xenophobic depiction of Mexicans as scruffy-looking date-rapists. Lado, (Benicio Del Toro) leads an extensive, armed and angry Spanish-dribbling crew. He is sadistic, perverse and his glazed stare is pitiless and unsettling. Salma Hayek’s entitled and completely unimposing heiress – her husband ran things before her – dampens the cartel’s imposing affect but the film still seems happy to suggest that Californian drug-dealers are welcome to their safe success until those darn Mexican’s want a piece of the pipe.

The two partners are drawn into a very violent battle and allegiances begin to shift between the cartel crew, and that of the boys with their federal contact but little is made out their allegiance to each other as O clearly acts as a catalyst for the real love between the two of them. The matter of Ben’s humanitarianism (work with African children and cancer patients) and its conflict with the violence of a drug war is a more interesting and sadly overlooked component to his character. The marijuana issue is politicised by Ben’s influence, but director Oliver Stone doesn’t seem to resolve this, and the “unconventional” love-triangle that holds the film together is topical and nothing else. Ultimately, it is a pretty hollow experience – particularly its time-warped ending which is flimsy and unsatisfying.

* a version of this post originally appeared at filmblerg.com

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