There's much savagery and little grace in this tale of the dysfunctional rich.
Tales of high-toned decadence don't come much more shocking than "Savage Grace," a true-crime tragedy charting an elite American family's descent into hell. The film, spanning 1946 to 1972, unfolds in six increasingly sordid acts, drawing us ever deeper into a world of superficial elegance, debauchery and shattering violence.
Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) inherited the fortune his grandfather amassed with Bakelite plastics. When he married gorgeous Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), his friends all agreed that the former model and would-be starlet was socially inferior. Still, her charisma and flair for emotional drama held Brooks in thrall.
Their son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne), a failure in his father's eyes, matured into a disturbed young man unnaturally attached to his domineering mother. As their relationship grows ever more twisted, dependent and mutually wounding, the drama builds to a devastating, destructive climax.
Director Tom Kalin ("Swoon") manages the difficult feat of being shocking without becoming sensationalistic. He wisely refuses to judge or overexplain his characters, letting us make of their emotional ambiguities what we will. Although the socialites inhabit a glamorous, globe-trotting world where appearances are all-important, the actors allow us to see the insecurities that their characters' narcissism and snobbery disguise. Vanity and self-regard are poor substitutes for a genuine sense of self-worth.
Moore's performance as the unsympathetic porcelain beauty Barbara is fearless, especially as the story climaxes in taboo-shattering catastrophe. If ever there was a film to extinguish any envy of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, "Savage Grace" is it.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186