There’s an image of the rich as hateful and depraved aristocratic monsters that never goes out of style. It’s an image that taps our envy (Look! They can do whatever they want!) and also our wish for superiority (Look at how miserable they are!). Savage Grace, based on a celebrated 1985 book of nonfiction, establishes its tone of bitter, murky anomie when Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane), heir to a plastics fortune, takes his wife, Barbara (Julianne Moore), out for a night at the Stork Club. As the couple rip and gnaw at each other, we might almost be in the middle of some merciless Tennessee Williams climax. Yet the ugliness has only just begun.

What follows, as the film moves forward from 1946 to 1972, is colder still: adultery, malevolent sex, and the gloom of divorce, as Barbara takes it upon herself to raise the Baekelands’ only child, Antony (Eddie Redmayne), a tall, wilting weed of a young man whose homosexual leanings she doesn’t much care for. Savage Grace has been shot with decadent cool creaminess, yet it’s a rather slipshod movie. The director, Tom Kalin, stages acid duels, but he should have provided more psychological structure. Though Moore, a great actress, turns fury into verbal music, we’re never quite sure what’s driving her. When the film becomes an absent-father nightmare, with Barbara and her son filling that void in a secret and disturbing way, it has shock value, all right, but not necessarily emotional credibility. B-

Savage Grace
  • Movie
  • 97 minutes