Julianne Moore almost erases memories of the debacle that was Trust The Man with another brave and searing performance. Her leading role in director Tom Kalin's overdue latest is a reminder of the sustained intensity she can bring to a decently written character.

Howard A Rodman's excellent script gives her the juicily acidic Barbara Daly, an aspiring socialite who marries into the Bakelite plastics family and fortune. She both desperately craves and resents the wealthy social circles her hubby Brookes Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) can effortlessly take or leave. Upper class and moustachioed, he similarly desires and spurns the woman and what she represents to him.

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We join them in New York, 1946, shortly after the birth of their son, Tony, and follow the fortunes of the three episodically through the decadent decades as they flit to Paris, Cadaque, Mallorca and London. Gradually, the films spins around the developing Tony, the derisive treatment he receives from his snooty father and the near sociopathic neediness his mother forces upon him. Tony (Eddie Redmayne) is an effete intellectual, with an upper class background that enables him to cut dispassionately to the quick of an argument, with little, or a callous, regard for the emotional consequences wrought on others. But his disturbing, underwhelming and overpowering parental relationships, especially close with his mother, precipitate a gradual internal implosion and deterioration in his mental health, leading to shocking and violent conclusions.

Half-hackneyed this may sound, but the film follows a book of the same name by Natalie Robins, in turn based on a true story, and Kalin's excellent film is resolutely compelling, at times downright unsettling. Expertly framed and paced throughout, it adroitly captures the shifting times, settings and tones of the family. More than once the look reminded me of Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley, though with less considered polish. These privileged, dented people invite little explicit sympathy, although they certainly merit pathos and the audience's interest in the slow-burn tragedy they seem intent on unfolding in their lives. The power to draw us into their world - to carry us from location to location, era to era - lies with the tremendous script and fine performances.

Rodman's screenplay bites like a viper when it has to, with Moore often claiming the most venomous lines, and at other times it shows a deft hand and acute ear for the nuances of conversation and believable dialogue. This is immediately apparent in the fractured but painfully mannered opening scenes between Moore and Dillane. Ingrown fissures are already revealing mutual entrapment and a seething resentment beneath their exchanges, with simple requests and remarks painting a far richer, uncomfortably textured picture.

Moore portrays Barbara in varying states of compulsion, revulsion, restraint, passion and repression with a luminous commitment and absorption. It's a convincing exploration of a splintering, insecure woman forever drawing a fashionable veil over the question of whether she has been or can ever actually be happy. She finds an able foil in Dillane's cool-blooded husband, but more impressively in Redmayne's Tony, looking like an androgynous Jamie Bell meets Ralph Fiennes. He evinces the evolution of Tony's character, thoughts and (possible) delusions, from palpable teenage confusion and explorations to the more disconcerting convictions of a young adult, with striking sincerity and credibility. An actor to watch (in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, say), though he may be hard pushed to find such a complex and grained role again soon.

Always engrossing, at times decidedly uncomfortable viewing, Savage Grace is accomplished cinematic storytelling that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

Reviewed on: 19 Oct 2007
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Accomplished telling of a real life upper class family's disturbing meltdown.
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Director: Tom Kalin

Writer: Howard A Rodman

Starring: Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, Eddie Redmayne, Elana Anaya, Simon Andreu, Anne Reid

Year: 2007

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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