Don Winslow’s Savages starts off with one of the most memorable opening chapters I’ve read; which simply said “F**k you”. These two words set up the feel of this novel really well. Chon and Ben are weed growers in Laguna Beach, California; their product is top of the range. Ben is the botanist that looks after their marijuana and business; Chon looks after the problems. Then there is O; their girlfriend. When the Baja Cartel takes interest in their product, things are bound to get Savage.
I’ve had this book on my radar for a while but since the Oliver Stone adaptation has been released I made sure I read the book before seeing the movie. This is savage noir, full of quick chapters and in the words of Don Winslow; baditude. Snappy dialogue, noirish themes and the dark gritty plot is what makes this novel such a thrill to read. But when you mix the quick, straight to the point chapters; you are practically flying through this book at an outrageous speed.
This book doesn’t pull any punches; it’s gruesome and disturbing so makes sense that Oliver Stone wanted to adapt it. While Stone was pretty faithful to the book, I’m a little disappointed in the lack of O’s mother PAQU (Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe). I really wanted to see what they would do with this character but unfortunately she wasn’t in the movie at all. It’s like Stone has cut most of the first half of the book and went straight for the point; the kidnapping of O. Also the DEA turncoat seems to have a much larger role in the movie which turned out rather well (simply because this role was played by John Travolta). Finally don’t get me started with the less than tragic ending; typical Hollywood.
The book works well because of the angst and mental back and forth that was conveyed; particularly with Ben. But the movie just goes for the savage violent point and it is gruesome to watch. Personally I much prefer the book, the wit and insight of Winslow just didn’t translate and the movie just felt more like violence for the sake of violence.
In the end, read the book; experience the style and wit of Don Winslow, because this was the best part. If you want to see the movie, maybe do it as a way to see what Hollywood does to a movie adaptation; while less tragic, it was more sardonic. I enjoyed the book but when it came to the movie I think they took it a little too far. But maybe that is just caused by the visual aspects of watching the violence.