Savage Grace fails to catch fire as this tale of class differences, social climbing, illicit affairs, incest and murder creates an emotional wall between the characters and the audience.
Based on an award winning book by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, Savage Grace is a true story of a societal poseur, Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), who climbs her way into a different class by marrying Brookes Baekeland (Stephen Dillane), heir to a plastics fortune. Soon the birth of their only child Tony turns their union upside down as the boy becomes uncommonly close with his mother and remains a failure in his father's eyes. As the story spans years, ranging from 1946 to 1972, dad disappears into his own world of work and affairs while Barbara becomes increasingly lonely, desperate and clingy--entering into an incestuous tryst with her now grown son (Eddie Redmayne), a homosexual. The film details her pathetic attempts at presenting herself as something she's not as she carries on the unnatural relationship-- which eventually leads to tragic consequences.
There is no question Julianne Moore is perhaps the most courageous, certainly most daring actress of her generation. Again, in Savage Grace, she proves herself willing to do anything and go further than most. Unfortunately, the stilted dialogue and tone of the piece don't do her any favors. We never get the feeling we're watching real life unfold as most of these characters speak like they are in a stage production. Nevertheless, Moore--with her flaming red hair and open sexuality--is still a treat to watch. Her Barbara is sensual, dangerous and unpredictable. British thesp Dillane (HBO's John Adams) proves again he can do just about anything and rises above the melodramatic script--mostly in the film's first half. Redmayne's Tony--a twisted mama's boy trying to carve out his own identity--is rather hopeless, and the actor struggles to make us empathize with him. Hugh Dancy turns up as Simon, a gay friend of the family, who winds up in a threesome with mother and son.
Director Tom Kalin does no favors for his actors by creating a fake atmosphere around them. Even though Savage Grace is shot on a number of glamorous worldwide locations, it feels small and claustrophobic. Kalin--like his talented cast--seems a little defeated by screenwriter Howard A. Rodman's dreary and soapy script, heavy with bloated dialogue and far-fetched situations. Writer and director seem to have taken a number of liberties with the real life story and the book the film is based on, instead "interpreting" the characters actions from photographs taken at the time. Unfortunately, their technique leaves the audience out of the loop. Rarely has a movie, particularly one with the gifted Moore, seemed so distant and uninvolving. Graphic sexual scenes in the unrated film seem only there to shock, not enlighten and by the end we know little more about the Baekeland saga than we did going in.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.