Director: Tom Kalin
Cast: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne
Stephen Dillane, Hugh Dancy, Elena Anaya, Belén Rueda, Unax Ugalde
On November 11, 1972, wealthy socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland was stabbed to death by her son Antony with whom she was having an incestuous affair.
In "Savage Grace" director Tom Kalin recreates the events that led to the tragic consequences, beginning with Antony's childhood during which Barbara (Moore) and his father Brooks (the always subtly brilliant Dillane) moved from New York City to Paris where he became part of a erudite circle his mother had a love/hate relationship with.
Years later while living in Spain, Antony (played by Redmayne throughout most of the film) begins to explore his sexuality and while his mother encourages him to practice love with anyone he wants (Antony was gay), his father runs away with his mistress (Anaya) leaving the young man to look after his mother.
Aimlessly travelling from exotic locale to locale, the film has trouble finding an emotional center that makes the characters' story worth a listen.
It doesn't help that Kalin chooses a disenchanted, detached aesthetic either, capturing his characters in the very same way in which they tackle their lives; moving only by inertia amongst pastel colored settings and randomly chosen vignettes.
Narrated by Antony, the story has a hard time deciding if it wants to be about the mother, the son, the subsequent incest or if it merely wants to blame the missing paternal figure for everything.
Most of the letters read by Antony are addressed to his father and the words contain pent up anger and bitterness that Redmayne's soft spoken, ironic tone never taps into.
Kalin makes a mess out of settling over Antonioni like techniques of character/structure connection or postmodernist melodrama, but of course the one thing he can't really control is Moore who gives an extraordinary performance.
Her Barbara is a pocketful of surprises, she plays her like the woman who inspired the original Madonna/Whore complex for whom the acts in which she seems like a lunatic require no extra effort from sitting with high society friends for tea.
Moore, who has never been one for star turns, avoids chewing the scenery here as well and turns in delicious work that touches camp (listening to her screaming "little puta" to her husband's lover at an airport is chilling and satisfying) and the mysteries of human behavior (what she does after the airport incident...).
While it may seem that for the movie Barbara is nothing more than tabloid fodder, Moore dignifies her with the benefit of the doubt.
When the story begins to explore the mysteries of the sexual relationship between Antony and Barbara, Moore handles all of her scenes with a perfectly imperfect balance of motherly love and plain bizarre mental behavior.
As Barbara puts her hand over her son's crotch you will feel the discomfort and awkwardness of the moment, Moore on the other side has completely vanished.