Savage Grace, the new film from Swoon director Tom Kalin
, attempts to dissect the early tremors of obsession and dependency in Antony Baekeland, the homosexual heir to a major plastics company, which overflowed when he snapped and murdered his would-be Hollywood starlet and erstwhile model mother Barbara Baekeland in their London home in November 1972. As his previous films and his involvement in the New Queer Cinema movement would have you guess, Kalin's study of the events leading up to the Baekeland stabbing is linked to a familial fear of homosexuality and confused sexual identity.
Kalin kicks things of in New York, not long after young Antony's birth and right in step with the early disintegration of the Baekeland marriage. Barbara (Julianne Moore
) dotes on both her cold genius husband Brooks (Stephen Dillane
), the grandson of the Bakelite plastics magnate Leo Baekeland, and little Antony with equal aplomb. By Antony's fourteenth birthday, the Baekelands are discovering naked teens in their son's bed and settling their disputes with carnal bouts in hotel rooms. By Antony's 21st, Brooks has left Barbara for Blanca (Elena Anaya), who's also been with Antony. Article continues below
Antony (Eddie Redmayne
) takes up with a young man named Jake (Unax Ugalde) while Barbara takes up with Sam (Hugh Dancy) who pressures her into being seen with tastemakers of all sorts, embodied here by The Orphanage's BelÚn Rueda. Later, mother and son share Sam in a bedroom romp right before "mummy" attempts to exit her current state with a few boxes of painkillers and a razor to the wrist. It's not until they arrive in London in 1972 that Antony starts getting hip to the Oedipal exploitation he's been the target of. By the time mummy unbuttons, unzips, and straddles her son, it's obvious that things won't be ending tidily.
Redmayne, who was last seen in Justin Chadwick's miserable The Other Boleyn Girl, douses the film with lilting, limp clips of voice over about his "mummy" and "papa," amongst other things. It fits the film, which could be described in similar terms. Nicely shot by Juan Miguel Azpiroz, the movie lacks in flavor and despite its comely veneer, it is often dreadfully boring. Moore, who is perpetually trustworthy in any role, buzzes on autopilot, lapsing into something similar to her performance in Todd Haynes' exceptional Safe. It doesn't deter the proceedings (rupturing boredom is Moore's specialty) but like everything else, it oozes a milieu of "good enough."
An indie cinema mainstay, Kalin served as producer for Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol, another story of faltered obsession though one directed with vigorous resolve rather than laziness. Given a story that deals so bluntly with Kalin's own obsessions (the pathology of homosexual criminals and their home life), his execution is unerringly safe and compartmentalized. Kalin spares us the imagery of Antony's suicide in 1981 on Riker's Island but one has to wonder: Would death, of all things, have given a pulse to Kalin's material?