Friday, June 1

Savage Grace: Favorite Movie #37

2007 Drama
From The Weinstein Company
Directed by Tom Kalin

Julianne Moore
Eddie Redmayne
Stephen Dillane
Elena Anaya
Hugh Dancy
Unax Ugalde
Barney Clark

When I wrote my review of Old Yeller,  I alluded to the fact that the family film may be at one extreme end of a spectrum of films that I call my favorites.  Let me announce that Savage Grace would be at the other end.  All the other 48 fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to types of movies that capture my attention.  I think I can say that I have never seen a film quite like this one.  It is bold and daring, audacious, taxing, controversial, to some vexing, to some just plain wrong.  I would likely not pay it much mind if it were not for one thing.  It is true or based on a true story and from all that I can gather, damned close to the true story.  I find the story hypnotic. 

I rounded up several friends shortly after it came out on DVD and we all watched it in silence.  I would look at the others occasionally and often they didn't look back or even sense I was looking at them, so riveted were they to the TV screen.  I think one watches this film knowing you have to focus completely on what is spilling out in front of you.  There is a sense of the foreboding that commands your full attention.  When it comes to its startling conclusion, you find yourself letting out a huge exhale, not quite realizing you've been holding your breath.

So, did you like it or not like it, I said aloud to one and all.  The friend sitting closest to me stood up and said, I don't know if I liked it or not, but I can tell you I will never forget it.  You would feel the same.  The first time I saw it, I was spellbound.  I couldn't stop jabbering about it to my partner as we drove home.  Two days later I was back in the theater to see it again.  In the middle of watching it that second time, I knew it had already moved somewhere onto my favorite films list.

I am most reluctant to go too far about telling you the plot points.  The effect this film would have on you would be chilling if you went into it cold.  And that's how you should see it.  If you choose not to see it and have in interest in knowing all of the Baekeland story, Google it or check out Wikipedia. 

The Baekelands are a wealthy family.  The focus here is from the 1950s to the 1970s.  Brooks is the grandson of the inventor of Bakelite plastic.  He had more money than he knew what to do with which no doubt attracted Barbara, a wannabe actress and social climber who married him.  They had a gay, schizophrenic son Antony, who was virtually ignored and disregarded by his father and enveloped in a complex, dangerous and incestual-type relationship with his mother.

To say that Brooks was the sanest one in the family is just the saddest thing in the world.  His behavior may not have been as unstable and dangerous as his wife's and son's but he was sorely lacking in parental skills, emotional comfort and warmth and expressing love.  And while he had the good sense to ultimately leave his crazy wife, he married a much younger woman that was probably someone his son had dated when he thought he would go straight.

Barbara always had a rather unhealthy attachment to her son.  When he was around 12, she asked him if he would still love her when she had gray hair and her tits sagged.  Uh-huh.  After her husband left her and there was no permanent man to replace him, she turned even more monster-like with her son.  She would have him sit on the toilet and apply lotion on cottonballs to the stitches on her wrists from a botched suicide attempt while she's taking a bath.  Uh-huh.

Her confusion of her son's sexuality (she was one day accepting of watching him and his boyfriend kiss and the next she was doing everything she could to discourage to male laiasons) led to her own seductive confusion in how to handle herself with him.

There are a number of sexual scenes and full nudity and I think it's fare to say there's a reading audience here whose attitudes will vary greatly on this subject.
The Baekelands spent most of their lives in Europe... Spain, France and England among the glittering locales where the rich gathered.  The photography was sensational as were the sets and the production design.  It's just a bit of whimsy to see how the rich live and a lark to see how they suffer.

We can whittle the acting compliments down to one main message... sensational across the board.   One cannot go wrong with Julianne Moore.  Her body of work is quite impressive and this film should be included when a tribute is done for her one day.  But will it be?  Barbara Baekeland would rival the best of the bad mothers and Moore richly and bravely pulled it off

Eddie Redmayne as the tortured son held his own.  Everything about his performance enchanted me.  His face, always so expressive, tells one all one needs to know about Tony Baekeland.  How he was not nominated for an Oscar, again, I can only surmise is due to some not wanting to bring attention to the subject matter.

In a smaller role, Stephen Dillane as the pompous ass of a rich, snooty, closed husband and father was heaven to watch and listen to.  He and Moore were both in The Hours, but as Nicole Kidman's husband, he had no scenes with Moore.  They are certainly dazzling as the bickering couple here.

The last 20 minutes of this film is unlike any other I have ever seen.  I know that.  It's unlike the last 20 minutes of any film you have ever seen too.  This is called a Spanish-French-U.S. co-production, but story-wise, this can't be too American because Americans are too... too what?... cowardly to tell dark stories like this one.  The French and the Spanish know how to lay it on the line.  Kudos to the Weinsteins.

Savage Grace is most definitely not everyone's cup of tea.  Again, had it not been a true story, it would not have been to my liking either.  It is about mentally unstable people, a family caught up in the most unimaginable tragedy but it is powerful and thought-provoking and evoked a sense of forgiveness in me.  It really is an unforgettable film.  Have a peek:

Next posting:  Not sure yet, but I am sure of this much.  Beginning this Tuesday, we will publish on Tuesdays and Fridays instead of Monday/Wednesday/Friday.  We may return to the latter at some point, but at least for the summer, when I am busier than at other times, it might be best in the interest of getting everything done that needs to be done that I lighten my load a bit.  If this decision makes you surly and disagreeable in your own lives, let me know right away and we can work something out.  See ya Tuesday.


  1. I think this is a very good review of the movie. I particularly enjoyed the artistry of Moore & Redmayne.This was my second viewing of the movie & my focus was once again concentrated & enthralled. Needless to say I will be viewing it again in the future as I find it to be a quality film.

  2. I wondered if I would ever have a comment on this film. I truly loved it. I am glad you were enthralled.