July 7, 2012 -- Oliver Stone shows his playful side in this film about rival drug dealers, murder, kidnapping and wild west shootouts. Specifically, he plays with the audience's expectations from the beginning of the film until the end, two endings to be more precise. He keeps dropping hints about what is going to happen and then plays games with the story based on those hints.
The story starts out with an “American Beauty” kind of hint about the possibility of the narrator, O (named after Ophelia, a character in Hamlet) being dead by the end of the film. She could be narrating from beyond the grave, she says slyly. O is in love with two men who are also in love with each other. In fact, O is warned by drug lord Elena (played by Salma Hayek of “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”) that her two lovers may love each other more than they love her.
O's lovers, Chon (Taylor Kitsch of “John Carter”) and Ben (Aaron Johnson of “Kick-Ass”) are small-time drug dealers. Ben is a botanist who has engineered a new kind of high-potency marijuana, while Chon is an Iraqi War veteran who is an enforcer with deadly ex-military mercenary connections. Their operation is targeted for takeover by Elena. When Chon and Ben reject Elena's offer of a partnership, she has O kidnapped and held for ransom, forcing Chon and Ben to cooperate. Chon and Ben search for ways to rescue O from Elena's clutches.
The story gets complicated by Mexican politics, corrupt law enforcement officials, rival drug cartels, and changing allegiances. A key player is one of Elena's top generals, Lado (Benicio Del Toro of “Sin City.” Lado is a very bad boy who is not necessarily trustworthy. Another key player is a federal law enforcement agent, Dennis (John Travolta) who also isn't very reliable.
For those who worship at the altar of capitalism, Mexican drug cartels are a fine example of unfettered capitalism, with demand created by law enforcement in the U.S. In this story, the drug lords decide they want to move their operations into the United States. At one point, Chon and Ben make a point of saying the only thing that would put them out of business would be the legalization of marijuana. Well, maybe it wouldn't put them out of business, but it would certainly cut into their profits. This is why some noted conservatives have actually proposed legalizing illegal drugs, to reduce the profit motive. The evil in this film is not caused by drugs, it is entirely the result of the temptation of big money.
Instead of the usual tiresome moralizing and tedious dramatics, Stone opts for two entirely different endings to the film, using a sort of rewind technique to go back to the beginning of the climactic scene, a Mexican standoff, and running another ending after the first one. You can take your choice. The first ending is operatic and dramatic. The second one is a sort of black comedy. This is Oliver Stone at his playful best. It isn't a masterpiece, but it is a lot of fun. This film rates a B.
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