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Can 'Savages' Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson restore Oliver Stone's Oscar glow?

March 23, 2011 |  3:30 pm

Hot-button filmmaker Oliver Stone has a new project nearing the starting gate. Deadline reports his adaptation of the popular Don Winslow novel "Savages" has Universal close to signing a distribution deal. Two of Hollywood's fast-rising young stars — Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch — will topline.

Oliver stone newsAlthough Stone is celebrated — or vilified, depending on your political POV — for tackling controversial subjects, "Savages" seems like more populist fare. The novel follows two pot-growing best buds forced into working for a Mexican drug cartel when their shared girlfriend is kidnapped. The twists carry on from there. The L.A. Times called the book a "marvelous, adrenaline-juiced roller coaster ... propulsive, yet meditative."

For nearly two decades, Stone was an Oscar golden boy. He is one of a select group of active writer-directors with multiple statuettes: best adapted screenplay (1978: "Midnight Express") and two best director wins (1986: "Platoon," 1989: "Born on the Fourth of July") from 11 overall nods: six for writing, three for directing, two as a producer.

Stone's last nomination was in 1995 and nothing he's done since then has won Oscar's favor. Could "Savages" provide the right formula? He is penning the script with novelist and screenwriter Shane Salerno.

Red-hot Johnson won over critics with his performance as the young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy" and proved his versatility as an average-Joe superhero in "Kick-Ass." Meanwhile, Kitsch is coming off the critically hailed TV drama "Friday Night Lights" and has parlayed those hosannahs into roles in the megabudget actioners "Battleship" and "John Carter of Mars." Like Johnson, he won fanboy adoration as a superhero with his eye-catching turn in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

"Savages" might land an added bit of Oscar oomph if Salma Hayek (best actress nominee, 2002: "Frida") joins the ensemble, as expected, in the juicy role of the drug cartel's formidable matriarch. Yet to be cast is the role of the free-spirited, kidnapped girlfriend.

-- Tom O'Neil

Oliver Stone photo by Jan Bauer / Associated Press

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