Savage Grace


Savage Grace

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 93


Audience Score

User Ratings: 12,765
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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 decadence are sown. Spanning 1946 to 1972, the film unfolds in six acts. The Baekelands' pursuit of social distinction and the glittering "good life" propels them across the globe. We follow their heady rise and tragic fall against the backdrop of New York, Paris, Cadaques, Mallorca and London.

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Julianne Moore
as Barbara Baekeland
Stephen Dillane
as Brooks Baekeland
Eddie Redmayne
as Antony Baekeland
Hugh Dancy
as Sam Green
Unax Ugalde
as Black Jake
Simón Andreu
as Jean Pierre Souvestre
Mapi Galán
as Simone Lippe
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Critic Reviews for Savage Grace

All Critics (93) | Top Critics (32) | Fresh (35) | Rotten (58)

Audience Reviews for Savage Grace

  • Sep 07, 2013
    I love this film's title, because it pretty much tells you just how formal this "sleazy" drama is going to be, seeing as how it is so intellectually ironic that it was once used as the name for some short-lived progressive rock band. Granted, the name was also adopted by some '80s metal band that is about as obscure, but that Savage Grace was power metal, so I reckon that means that you can be only so hardcore with this title before you have to get at least a little bit tasteful, as this film will also tell you. Oh yeah, schizophrenia, family dysfunction, incest and bisexuality, now that is some classy stuff right there, but I'm sure the filmmakers can make it all proper and whatnot, because they were at least intelligent enough to get Eddie Redmayne as Julianne Moore's son. The parts of Redmayne that you can't fully buy into as what you might expect from the baby of Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie are pretty much those of Moore, except Redmayne's still got those blasted big lips, and Moore doesn't have any at all. I think that most of us can at least settle on the opinion that Redmayne and Moore are both still strange-looking people, unless, of course, you look at "The Good Shepherd" and this film and realize that Redmayne must not be too unusual in appearance, seeing as how you can kind of see him as most anyone's kid. Shoot, maybe good ol' Eddie Reddie really is a chameleon or something, and I'm not just saying that because his eyes are about as separated as this film, even though where Redmayne's eyes are physically separated, the dysfunctional family members featured in this drama are anything but "physically" estranged, if you know what I mean, uh-huh, uh-ew.... I don't know if I'm more disturbed by the fact that this is a mother and her son fooling around or by the fact that this is Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne fooling around with each other (Shoot, I joke, but Redmayne looks a whole lot better than me, it's just weird that he stole Moore's lips), but either way, something gets under your skin with this pretty decent film, no matter how much the problems cool down some of the heat to this effort. To go ahead and discuss a problem that is as great as any in this promising effort, this film's story concept is kind of limited in potential, being juicy and all, but with relative thin spells that weigh down potential momentum, whose being directed down a somewhat familiar path hardly helps. There's not a whole lot that's unique about this story, and sure, there are plenty of aspects that aren't too formulaic, but there are plenty of other aspects that are borderline tired in their familiarity, though not so much so that you don't feel as though you should probably get to know these familiar characters and their familiar story a bit more. Based on a relatively infamous true story, this film pays little attention to telling you about characters you already know, at least from other films, and I guess that's kind of easy to get over, seeing as how this film is hardly cleansed of expository depth, but there are times where you seriously wish that you knew more about the heart of this character drama, especially when the characters do deeds that are too questionable for you to buy into without reinforced investment. Many are saying that what really undercuts this film is the unlikability of its characters, and I won't go so far as to say that this film's leads are nearly as uncompelling as they say, partially because their portrayals by the performers are so inspired, but there is a touch too much sleaze to people we're supposed to feel sympathy for, and that can work for only so long, which is unfortunate, because, quite frankly, when things aren't sleazy, they're not really all that interesting, at least when you take into account the way Tom Kalin handles things. No, Kalin's direction has plenty of highlights to give you glimpses at what very much could have been, but in one too many places, Kalin coasts with storytelling momentum, hardly ever to where you're faced with the blandness that I was not expecting to be in this short of supply, but decidedly to where some sense of aimless ensues due to limited atmospheric kick, and joins an air of ambition to what really flavored up moments in atmosphere there are in giving you more time than you should be given to notice the natural shortcomings. There are hardly any consequential missteps to this film, but that's largely because there's only so much to this film to begin with, and while that emphasizes the strengths, - of which there are more than a few - it also emphasizes the shortcomings, enough so for the film to limp along until it finally sputters out just short of genuinely rewarding. Nevertheless, the final product comes closer to that than plenty say, doing only so much to flavor up its juiciness, but sustaining a fair bit of investment, while keeping your eyes occupied with decent art direction. This is a pretty minimalist period piece, so art director Deborah Chambers doesn't really have a whole lot to work with when it comes to building a distinguished environment for this drama, but that just makes the subtle touches all the more impressive, because when Chambers delivers, she goes a long way with only so much in selling the lavish lifestyle around which this sophisticatedly sleazy drama is built. At the very least, the production value of this film is mighty handsome, especially when seen through Juan Miguel Azpiroz's handsome cinematography, so strictly speaking from an aesthetic point, this film all but stands out, and that does a fair bit in selling a story that does deserve an inspired interpretation, or at least seems to, due to potential's being so frequently betrayed. Near-aimless, rather undercooked and, in some ways, formulaic storytelling betray the full potential of this subject matter, which is, in fact, promising, being rather dramatically thin, to be sure, with questionable character and whatnot, but still with a certain juiciness that is, at times, done a fair bit of justice by Howard A. Rodman's script, whose cleverly organic marriage of sophistication and sleaze brings some life to this drama, at least until director Tom Kalin hits a genuine highlight in his efforts. Kalin's somewhat sparse type of storytelling taints the film with aimlessness that gives you too great of an opportunity to meditate upon natural shortcomings, and a tone of ambition further stresses limitations, but Kalin's efforts are not so steady that they ever truly dull things down, and when they work, they do a fine job of playing up anything from the sophisticated sleaze in Rodman's writing to the tasteful atmosphere of Fernando Velázquez's beautiful score, often to the point of drawing enough intrigue to all but thoroughly compel through all of the story shortcomings and character questionability. At the very least, the film stays intriguing enough to be consistently entertaining, something that I was not expecting this conceptually dry drama to be, at least to this degree, and while that's not enough to nudge the final product into a rewarding state, it keeps you going while intrigue gradually builds, leaving you with latter acts that offer the compellingness that should be consistent throughout the film, but never drifts as far as many say it does. For this, credit is not simply due to the film's entertainment value, but to a certain consistent strength: the acting, which is decidedly most inspired within our leads, who not only deliver on crackling chemistry, but all but compensate for the relative unlikability or lack of intrigue within their roles with committed individual performances. Eddie Redmayne is sharply convincing as a well-intentioned and sharp, but flawed young intellectual struggling under the weight of his questionable relationships, and Julianne Moore captures the anguish of a woman who just downright suffers under the weight of her questionable relationships, - particularly those with a husband who she draws away from, and with a son whose draws too close to - and while I wish that the film is as compelling as the performances of its leads, the inspiration within Moore's and Redmayne's chemistry and acting represents the heart found throughout the film, which isn't frequent enough in its inspiration to truly reward, but is bound to keep the willing going. Once all of the juiciness has run dry, you're left with a promising film that still doesn't offer enough potential for the conventionalism, underdevelopment, questionable characters, aimless storytelling and glaring hint of ambition to not be enough to drive the final product short of rewarding, a point that, through lavish art direction, handsome cinematography, lovely score work and an intriguing story concept, - brought to life by highlights in writing and direction, and strong chemistry and performances between leads Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne - is seen in glimpses enough for "Savage Grace" to stand as a consistently entertaining and sometimes effective affair, even with its hefty deal of shortcomings. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Jul 01, 2012
    Julianna Moore carries this film gorgeously, but with a lack of intent throughout the entire plot of the film, the viewer is lazily dragged through a mix between a solid drama and impending thriller. Shifting main characters makes the film uneven, as Eddie Redmayne eventually takes on the role, selling it as best he can, yet the film still comes off flaccid and unfocused.
    Christopher H Super Reviewer
  • Apr 22, 2010
    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 â€" 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.
    Daniel M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 27, 2009
    Don't waste your time. This is a really messed up movie...about a totally screwed up family. I usually like disfunctional family movies, but this one was just WEIRD!
    Barbara A Super Reviewer

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