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  Savage Grace A Low In High Society
Year: 2007
Director: Tom Kalin
Stars: Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Elena Anaya, Unax Ugalde, Simón Andreu, Jim Arnold, Barney Clark, Hugh Dancy, Abel Folk, Mapi Galán, Martin Huber, Lina Lambert, Minnie Marx, Peter Vives Newey, Brendan Price, Anne Reid, Belén Rueda
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Antony Baekeland (Eddie Redmayne) was born in 1946 to a rich father and a mother who had married above her station. His father, Brooks (Stephen Dillane), was the heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune, such as it was, but preferred to spend his time as an adventurer in foreign climes, while his mother Barbara (Julianne Moore) worked hard at being a social butterfly. However the relationship between them grew strained when Tony was introduced to their lives, and Barbara would delight in humiliating her husband only to return to him later on. Little did they know they were sowing the seeds of their own downfall...

The director of Savage Grace, Tom Kalin, was responsible for a similarly remote examination of a true life horror, Swoon, which was based on the Leopold and Loeb case and went on to become a cult movie in some quarters. This also had a gay theme, but also an incest one as when Tony grew up he was, shall we say, unnaturally close to his mother, something the lonely woman did little to discourage. Based on the non-fiction book by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, this was a coolly aloof, steely look at a seriously dysfunctional family.

Of course, no family begins with the wish that they will breed a killer, never mind that their victims will be in the family, but that is what happened to the Baekelands in a case that hit the headlines in a sensational manner back in the early seventies. Kalin, working from Howard A. Rodman's script, hops methodically from year to year, from country to country, to detail what the film understands is the reasons for the final act, but you rarely feel as if they have truly got under the skin of the real people and more as if you are watching characters in a drama.

Also not helping is that Savage Grace is a very hard film to like, with its emotionally distant and damaging souls, even if the harm they do is unintentional and more to do with their inability to look after anybody but themselves. If Brooks and Barbara were a little more loving, a little more honest and less inclined to hurt each other, who knows, maybe this film would never have needed to be made? As it is, it looks to have been intended part as a case history and part awful warning about being careful how you treat those in your life you are nearest to and not be so concerned with your social standing.

Julianne Moore could do this sort of role in her sleep, but that's not to say that she is coasting here and definitely understands Barbara as she is presented in the context of this story. She tackles scenes where she is required to blow up at her husband's friends and those where she seduces her screen son with equal skill, and nowhere does Kalin sensationalise either these or any other aspects, therefore Moore sums up the iciness better than the simmering resentments and sense of betrayal that make up the emotional tone of the film. It's possible that the makers here are placing their own reading on some pretty squalid events, glamourising them even, but the chill that they leave unquestionably lasts well after the depressing ending in spite of the poise of the rest of the work. Music by Fernando Velázquez.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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