SAVAGE GRACE

Tom Kalin’s small-scale period epic is the unnerving, unsavory tale of a mother and son racing each other into madness; the results are occasionally intriguing but ultimately underwhelming. Julianne Moore is Barbara Daly, who married Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane), heir to the fortune his grandfather made by creating the Bakelite. The couple was a society fixture throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s in both New York and Paris. Barbara, as portrayed here, was a rather pretentious young woman who glittered in the limelight of high society, feeling superior to everyone – including her husband. The film opens with the trouble marriage between Brooks and Barbara and introduces their infant son Tony. As Tony grows up, he is an avid French student and an obvious homosexual with an increasingly, unhealthily close relationship to his mother. As a young adult, Tony (Eddie Redmayne) explores all that life has to offer, ultimately settling on a boyfriend – with whom he shares a sexual relationship with his own mother. I can’t decide where it was that this film lost me – was it the scene where Barbara’s husband practically rapes her from behind, the scene where Tony, Barbara and their boyfriend have the beginnings of a threesome, or the penultimate scenes where Tony and Barbara have sex? In all honesty, nothing about this is offensive particularly – it’s just not handled in a way that engages throughout. You wouldn’t think such material could be a bit boring, but it can and is here. Finally, in a London flat on November 17, 1972, Tony stabbed Barbara in the gut with a kitchen knife after some sort of insane misunderstanding. He killed her, went into a mental institution, and was released a few years later. A subtitle at the film’s end tells the rest. The film is the first feature directed in 15 years by Tom Kalin, who made “Swoon” (1992), about the Leopold and Loeb murder case. Here, we have the materials of an interesting movie without the payoff. It’s all sort of creepy and unnerving in theory, but not in practice. In fact, it’s pretty bland. It must be said that Moore, one of our greatest actresses, does what she can with the performance as Barbara, and that’s about the best element of the film, which is also handsome enough to look at. Other than that, it’s much ado about nothing.

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