Savage Grace (***_)
With Savage Grace, Julianne Moore plays a mid-century housewife for the fourth time in her career (the other three were for Far From Heaven, The Hours and The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio), but she shows no signs of fatigue or boredom. She has embraced the character type in a way old movie stars used to embrace them—as a means by which to plumb the conceptual depths of a persona, and to brand it as her own—thus making her performance endlessly fascinating to watch. Granted, Moore’s Barbara Baekeland is no suffering naïf, which is the most significant change from her previous roles. In Savage Grace, Barbara’s victimization draws her, Medea-like, toward a cool, perverse form of vengeance.
Astoundingly, Savage Grace’s Barbara Baekeland was a real woman. She married Brooks Baekeland, heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune, and is perhaps most famous for being found dead in her London apartment in 1972, stabbed by her son Tony, who was eating Chinese takeout when the police arrived. Director Tom Kalin, who made a name for himself in the ’90s with his indie debut, Swoon, finds the story irresistibly cinematic, as well he should, considering the crazy trail of events that leads to Barbara’s murder, and the glamorous locales (Cadaqués, Spain; Paris) and time periods in which they take place.
It follows that Savage Grace’s attractive cast is always clad in the most delectable fashions (that is, when they’re not naked), and that its dramatic scenes, even the most upsetting ones, are completely affected. This artifice is for the most part Kalin’s strength; he even makes a talented actor’s (Moore’s) convincing and impassioned performance part of the chic scenery, a feat of which only the deftest directors (Nicholas Roeg, Alfred Hitchcock) are capable. Still, Savage Grace isn’t, in the end, about much more than the profligate rich and their various complexes: a great topic for a lark of a film, to be sure, but not one that’s apt to leave much of a lasting impression.
Savage Grace is playing at the Isabel Bader Theatre (91 Charles St. W.) on May 18, as part of the Inside Out Festival.