Tom Kalin unleashed “Swoon,” his unsettling, arthouse take on the Leopold and Loeb murder case (the same crime that inspired “Rope” and “Compulsion“), way back in ’92. He then disappeared from the world of features for 16 years, and has now returned with this film, based on a lesser-known, yet equally perverse, true crime. “Savage Grace” traces the society-driven, globe-hopping antics of the Baekelands – Brooks (Stephen Dillane, “John Adams”), Barbara (Julianne Moore), and their son, Tony (Eddie Redmayne) – from the 50s through the early 70s. From the very beginning, it’s obvious that Brooks has to put up with a lot. Barbara is theatrical, obnoxious, clingy and probably bipolar, and the last thing she needs is a child. As Tony grows up, the mother-son bond tightens and he seems to inherit some of her nastier traits. Before long, Brooks can’t take it anymore and runs off with Tony’s girlfriend (really, you can’t blame him), leaving mother and son to inflict heaping helpings of emotional damage on one another – a situation that eventually ends in twisted tragedy. What’s most interesting is how, rather than cover snippets of time from the 20-plus year long haul, Kalin instead chooses a handful of pivotal days from the timeline to focus on.
“Savage Grace” isn’t anywhere near as hypnotizing as “Swoon,” and yet it’s hardly a bad film – just a deeply unpleasant one. What was Kalin’s goal in making the piece and how much of it is true? Regardless of intent, he’s ultimately created a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of being wealthy and bored – an ugly combination destined to go sour. It’s also a must-see for fans of Julianne Moore, as she once again proves that she’s willing to go the distance for whatever material she signs on to help interpret.