Is Savages Based on a True Story?

‘Savages’ is a gruesome gangster thriller directed by the prolific Oliver Stone of ‘Wall Street’ fame. A messy but fearless, fast-paced story that reminds one of early classics of Brian De Palma, the narrative revolves around two marijuana entrepreneurs who, with the help of a corrupt DEA agent, embark on a mission to save their kidnapped girlfriend from the clasp of a notorious Mexican cartel. As far as thrillers go, everyone loves a good adrenaline hit, but they are rarely tethered to reality. If you are asking whether ‘Savages’ is one of the rare thrillers that’s rooted in real-life events, well, let us find out.

Is Savages Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Savages’ is not based on a true story. As you may have guessed, the film is one that features a fictional storyline but has subtly made use of actual events to further its own narrative. Stone adopted the film from the eponymous crime thriller novel by Los Angeles-based author Don Winslow. Published in 2010, the novel, like the film, tells the story of two small-time weed-cultivators, Ben and Chon, who grow to become influential dealers.

These two “heroes” – one, a Buddhist botanist, and the other, a soulless mercenary – also share a special kind of love triangle with the blonde and beauteous Ophelia (“O”). As they start to grow big in the business, a notorious Mexican drug cartel, led by the merciless Elena, tries to intimidate them into playing ball, and when they refuse to comply, the cartel reaches out to kidnap their girlfriend. Now, with the help of a shady government official, they try to take the cartel down and rescue their girlfriend.

While the film is fictional, it maintains some semblance to reality in its depiction of the violent underworld of drug trafficking. Viewers would be astonished to know that the cold-hearted and charismatic character of Elena is loosely based on Veronica Mireya Moreno Carreon, the first known female leader of the infamous Los Zetas gang of Mexico. Carreon, a.k.a. “La Flaca” (the skinny girl), reportedly served as the mob boss of the “plaza” (the drug trafficking zone) of San Nicolas de los Garza near northern Mexico.

Image Credit: Reuters

Moreover, the Mexican connection is established from the first scene in the film as we see Lado wearing a Lucha Libre mask. Lucha Libre is the term for traditional freestyle wrestling in Mexico, where professionals are often distinguished by their decorative masks (think Rey Mysterio). However, the plot places the character of Elena at the helm of the Baja Cartel, which has seemingly has a rooted history in the US soil, unlike the Zetas cartel.

It could be the case that the Baja Cartel is based on the Tijuana Cartel (or CAF), which was once one of the most violent organized crime groups of Mexico and the US. On the other hand, if one were to extrapolate this train of thought, then it is equally likely that Sinaloa Cartel could have inspired the antics of the Baja Cartel. Apart from the cartel connection, Taylor Kitsch, who plays Chon, took training from an actual Navy SEAL personnel to make his character look more realistic. He also performed all of his stunts in the movie.

Remember the scene where Chon cuts a guard’s artery with the help of his knife, all the while asking for the time? It is a real tactic used by defense forces and was suggested by Kitsch’s Navy SEAL advisor during training. Lastly, if you’re wondering whether all those marijuana plants shown in the film are real, we are sorry to disappoint you. They’re plastic. However, production designers visited actual medical cannabis farmers to nail the details. Evidently, the film has usurped a few real-life narratives into its plot to deliver us one hell of a thriller.

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