This is an Oliver Stone film but it starts badly and initially feels like a lightweight post ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ overly-contrived female fantasy. An impression only re-enforced by the narration from O (Blake Lively). O is Ophelia a beautiful blond hippy/surf chick. She tells us she lives with and loves two men, Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Ben is smart, soft and warm and ‘makes love’ to her. Chon is also smart but in a different way. He is an ex-Iraq war veteran and is cold and hard. He just ‘fucks her’. So they get to share her but she gets everything. Thankfully this ménage et trois works well in the context of the story and gives the main characters much of their motivation in the events that follow.
Things are complicated : Ben and Chon run a large drugs business, growing and selling the best marijuana anywhere. However not everyone is happy with their expansion and some in fact see it as a business opportunity. Enter Elena Sanchez (played by a mostly very impressive Salma Hayek). She is a drugs baron and head of the brutal Tijuana Cartel. She doesn’t think twice about ordering the raping, torturing, mutilating or more commonly the decapitation of anyone who gets in her way. Now Elena wants a big cut of Ben and Chon’s drug business and has decided that O will be her leverage to get that…
This is a good film, despite the slightly inauspicious opening. The acting is believable, the script solid and the story is tense with a lot of twists and turns. You will often think you know where it’s going but it will then take a different path. The ending however is disappointing. I can’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil the film but I was hoping for something a bit deeper – maybe the pain of seeing the destruction of something beautiful (O, Ben and Chon’s relationship) and then the thrill of the creation of something new and more realistic would have been a good way to end the film and to make you think you had seen something meaningful. This is hinted at as one direction the story could have gone in, as Elena starts to plant barbs beneath O’s skin: “Sure they both love you but you realise they must love each other more or they wouldn’t share you”. An impression further reinforced by the hardening and animalising of Ben. Previously he is portrayed as soft and altruistic – he puts money from his drug’s business into education and sustainable energy in Africa. He is forced by Elena and circumstance to do very bad things in order to keep O alive, including the framing, torture and burning alive of one of her henchman. O watches on and looks shocked.
However ultimately the film does takes a viable route and can be summarised in just a few words “What would you do for love?”. The answer seems to be “Anything”. Seeing something so ugly come from something so beautiful, and from something held in such high regard is actually quite frightening. 7/10