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Savage Grace (2007)



Average Rating: 5/10
Reviews Counted: 92
Fresh: 35 | Rotten: 57

Though visually compelling, the lamentable characters in Savage Grace make for difficult viewing.


Average Rating: 4.9/10
Critic Reviews: 32
Fresh: 12 | Rotten: 20

Though visually compelling, the lamentable characters in Savage Grace make for difficult viewing.



liked it
Average Rating: 2.9/5
User Ratings: 12,607

My Rating

Movie Info

"Savage Grace" tells the incredible true story of Barbara Daly, who married above her class to Brooks Baekeland, the dashing heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. Beautiful, red-headed and charismatic, Barbara is still no match for her well-bred husband. The birth of the couple's only child, Tony, rocks the uneasy balance in this marriage of extremes. Tony is a failure in his father's eyes. As he matures and becomes increasingly close to his lonely mother, the seeds for a tragedy of spectacular



Howard A. Rodman

Dec 23, 2008


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All Critics (96) | Top Critics (32) | Fresh (35) | Rotten (57) | DVD (5)

While the pace occasionally flags and there are times when we wonder where Kalin is leading us, he maintains a pervasive sense of dread and unease throughout that makes the chilling climax seem both shocking and inevitable.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Though the characters may be repellent, the film permits you to feel sympathy.

July 4, 2008 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's a horror story, all right, but the reason for telling it remains unclear, and it seems like a waste of Kalin's evident talent.

June 27, 2008 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

For that particular someone, Savage Grace could be the perfect summer

June 27, 2008 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

If ever there was a film to extinguish any envy of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Savage Grace is it.

June 26, 2008 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Though the film looks elegant, with deceptively simple interiors creating an impression of great wealth, it feels remote. We're impressed by the work the actors are doing, yet the characters don't hold our interest.

June 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Ridiculous. An artsy-soapy drawing room study of bored contempt and idle peccadilloes amongst the 1950s-'60s-'70s jet set in Europe.

May 6, 2010 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Superficial dysfunctional story on the rich.

September 25, 2009 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

The most shocking thing about Savage Grace is its flatness

August 26, 2009 Full Review Source: CinePassion

A sick-room torpor hangs heavily about this masterfully controlled, elegantly composed movie by Tom Kalin.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Guardian

The subject matter could be considered shocking and the film is difficult to watch at times; the director, Tom Kalin, isn't pulling his punches, but he refrains from giving any of the material the showy Hollywood treatment.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Jam! Movies
Jam! Movies

Provocative but frustratingly shallow.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

This tale of class differences, social climbing, illicit affairs, incest and murder creates an emotional wall between the characters and the audience.

October 1, 2008 Full Review Source:

For all the Baekalands' outrť behavior, the movie is peculiarly timid at times.

September 10, 2008 Full Review Source: Pajiba

A grotesque waste of time about terrible people I'd rather not have known.

July 31, 2008 Full Review Source: Arizona Daily Star | Comment (1)
Arizona Daily Star

The performance is so oversized that, just as Barbara cowed her husband and son into submission, the other actors seem to tiptoe around Moore.

July 28, 2008 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

...more savagery than grace...

July 25, 2008 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

Savage Grace is a movie that badly wants to shock you. The only thing that might raise an eyebrow here, however, is the shocking rate at which everyone lights up a cigarette every five minutes.

July 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Ultimately, I felt more sorry for Moore - giving her all to a skeezy, tabloid psychodrama - than for her self-absorbed character.

July 18, 2008
Salt Lake Tribune

An appallingly handsome and creepy film entirely suiting the subject matter and repellent and alluring in equal measure. If you relish dishy tales of the depraved rich, it's like Thanksgiving in a movie.

July 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Oregonian

Director Tom Kalin, who's making his second feature after 1992's Swoon, tells the real-life story of the Baekeland family in a subdued whisper, like a servant muttering backstairs about a rich master's failings.

July 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Charlotte Observer
Charlotte Observer

A film as harsh, brittle and unbalanced as its characters.

July 11, 2008 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The film boasts another sensational performance by Moore and a welcome return to feature directing by Kalin.

July 8, 2008 Full Review Source:

Kalin and Moore have done such a fine job creating this monster, you'll be inclined to forgive them for never quite figuring out what to do with her.

July 6, 2008 Full Review
Philadelphia Weekly

Audience Reviews for Savage Grace

An accomplished film based on an unpleasant crime. Tom Kalin's direction is stylish and sophisticated and each decade and location is painted with detail and distinction. The performances are strong, Julianne Moore boldly brings the unlikable Barbara Baekeland to life in a daring career move that I really do admire, especially as I'm not a big fan of hers. There are a few things that bother me though - Sam Green green has come forward since the film was made and has rejected his portrayal and has taken legal action for slander regarding a scene in which he is seen to have a threesome with mother and son. I can't help but believe him as is letters written at the time suggest a totally different account but he doesn't help himself from name dropping ever other line in his letter of innocence posted in the Mail in 2008. It's a dangerous game when you start implementing people, whether they are dead or still alive, especially when it is profit driven in the name of telling the truth. Apart from that, it is a very well made film but it's hard to like such an unpleasant story.
February 12, 2013

Super Reviewer

When a film critic describes a film as ‚??admirable‚??, it is usually a polite way of saying that the film is disappointing. You have to admire Steven Spielberg for making Schindler‚??s List, or Terry Gilliam for finishing The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. But all the good feeling and intentions in the world do not make these good films; often one‚??s admiration for one aspect of a film is quickly followed by a damning attack on the rest.

You would imagine that Savage Grace would fall into the same camp. It‚??s certainly admirable in its intentions; the story of Barbara Daly Baekeland remains a bizarre open secret, shocking in its time but long since forgotten. And there is no doubt that in its execution and structure, it is not an unconditional success. Savage Grace is a twisted and difficult film, and at times it is very hard to feel involved in what is unfolding. But for those who would endure its unusual approach and overlook its weaknesses, it is a thought-provoking and shocking story anchored by a brilliant central performance.

It‚??s easy to make a film about rich, successful people having problems; Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory made a career out of it. It‚??s much harder to make us care about such people, whose problems often have little direct bearing on our own lives. Savage Grace makes this task harder because of the way in which its subject is presented. Tom Kalin‚??s direction is unflinchingly cool; he never wimps out during the graphic or disturbing scenes, but it often feels like you‚??re watching the film through a series of murky windows. The characters are very difficult to get a handle on; unlike Lolita, there is no central figure with whom we emotionally identify.

In other films, this distance would irritate us to the point at which we give up. But if you compare this to the similarly glacial Public Enemies, you begin to understand Kalin‚??s reasoning. Public Enemies attempted to paint a nostalgic picture of 1930s America, with John Dillinger as both its greatest hero and biggest criminal. But the ultra-modern hand-held shooting style was at odds with this nostalgia, meaning that audiences simply could not bond with the characters. Savage Grace is not in the least bit nostalgic for either the period or its social graces; its stately camera work allows us to dissect the period through the tragic central story. We learn to accept the characters as products of a lifestyle, rather than as a series of irritating bores.

Savage Grace takes the Baekelands‚?? story and uses it as the prism for an examination of success. It argues that such insane levels of wealth and luxury breed deep-rooted mental insecurity, and much like American Psycho it paints a picture of material success as something morally empty and vacuous. The central lines of the film are spoken by Tony in the narration: ‚??One of the uses of money is that it allows us not to live with the consequences of our mistakes.‚?? It is quite clear from the events which follow, and in the manner in which they play out, that both Tony and Kalin disagree.

The film is centrally about the suffocating influence of wealth and family. This is on one level literally true, since at the end of the film we are told that Tony died by suffocating himself with a plastic bag (an ironic death, since his family made their fortune in plastics). But it is conveyed on a deeper level by the relationship between Tony and his mother. This begins safely enough; Barbara is presented as someone who is flamboyant, provocative and occasionally outspoken, but generally concerned with improving her husband‚??s image. But after he begins an affair, she steadily transforms into a far more twisted and bizarre creature. Her protective attitude towards Tony becomes even more marked; she treats her son like a surrogate husband, consummating their incest and despising the thought of him having gay lovers.

The film rises and falls on the performance of Julianne Moore, who is on startling, spellbinding form. It‚??s very hard to think of anybody else who could pull off such a complex role. Moore‚??s beauty has an old-fashioned elegance to it which is perfect for the character, and the script offers her many juicy lines in several different languages. But it‚??s her outbursts which brilliantly reveal the monster inside; someone who is spiteful, vicious, overprotective and self-loathing. Moore really taps into the character, playing her as essentially a tragic figure who silently craves affection.

The central scene of Savage Grace comes when Barbara goes to the airport to meet her husband. She finds him with his mistress, a girl who only minutes earlier was her son‚??s girlfriend. She unleashes a carefully choreographed hell, calling him a coward and the girl a whore, followed by a blistering tirade about his penchant for anal sex. Having said all she can but to no avail, she walks outside and slowly disintegrates. This is the moment at which Barbara begins the irreversible decline into mental illness and sexual waywardness. Her dress, which looks blood-spattered, is a possible reference to the pig-blood scene in Carrie: both instances are the first time the characters are able to direct their rage and use it for destructive purposes.

Eventually, the film shifts and becomes more about the madness of Tony, which eventually leads him to murder his mother with a kitchen knife. There is very little exploration as to the precise cause of his madness; their relationship is not strictly oedipal, since Tony does not hate his father. There are comparisons with Psycho in the way in which Barbara dominates Tony‚??s life, and the narration does suggest that her death was what such domination would eventually cause. The biggest clue comes in the killer line as Tony is led away: ‚??I have so much in my head, which to let it out would surely kill me. Nevertheless, I feel better now.‚??

The problems with Savage Grace are to be found in little oddities in Kalin‚??s approach. A lot of his decisions don‚??t make sense until the very end of the film, in particular the narration. At the end it works wonders once we realise we are listening to the cracked mind of a killer, and we wonder just how long he has been crazy. But up until that point, it irons out many potentially dramatic scenes, reducing them to bland exposition.

The significance of the dog collar is never explained; it is brought up occasionally and used as a trigger for the murder, but its actual meaning is never properly explored. Much like Don‚??t Look Now, many of the visual devices simply don‚??t work early on. Reversing the film to show Tony writing backwards is a really cheap trick, and is shot in a way which feels closer to The Time Machine than to psychosexual drama.

Savage Grace‚??s flaws are clear for all to see. It is a film to be admired rather than enjoyed ‚?" certainly it‚??s not the sort of thing you‚??d kick back to after a long day. But buried beneath its problems and unusual style is a shocking story which deserved to be told and which has been handled in the most honest way possible. Many scenes are very difficult to watch and the whole film has a really creepy tone in the best possible way. Above all it is a damning and frightening indictment of inherited wealth and the resulting moral vacuum, exemplified by Julianne Moore in her best performance since The Hours. Kalin may make better, more accessible films, but this is an interesting effort which gives American Psycho a run for its money.
April 22, 2010
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

"Truth is more shocking than fiction."

A dramatization of the shocking Barbara Daly Baekeland murder case, which happened in a posh London flat on Friday 17 November 1972. The bloody crime caused a stir on both sides of the Atlantic and remains one of the most memorable American Tragedies...

I always have some difficulty with films that are unashamedly brilliant yet difficult to watch. Not in the sense of mentally and artistically challenging (although Savage Grace does this) but in the sense of being downright unpleasant.

The film follows the (true) story of a mismanaged inheritance, complicated by incest and matricide. It is a compelling character study of a young boy left with no sense of direction, no reliable role model and, in an atmosphere where he can seemingly want for nothing, having no-one whom he can trust. Julianne Moore plays the mother with all of her practiced skill, switching from heavily interiorised emotion to outbursts of rage. A complex character, she is desperately trying to find herself, to find some meaning in her existence. An existence where she constantly affirms a society role of being at the crest of a wave. The bisexuality of a man she trusts as a friend later becomes a factor that helps to sheer away her moorings.

Savage Grace is a dark, dark film. For strong constitutions only.
June 6, 2009
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

    1. Barbara Baekeland: If you're tired of Paris, you're tired of everything.
    – Submitted by Mary B (18 months ago)
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