Savage Grace



by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Baekelands were a socially prominent family of American plutocrats. The patriarch of the clan was Leo Baekeland, a brilliant Belgian-born scientist and inventor who emigrated to the United States in 1889, when he was in his mid-twenties, and promptly came up with some patents that would make him rich and important enough to merit a cover of Time Magazine. His most important invention was Bakelite, the first truly useful plastic and, as such, an ubiquitous and profitable product throughout the 20th century.

Long after Leo had departed from our plane of existence, his great-grandson Antony was incarcerated in England for stabbing his mother to death. After serving nearly a decade in a mental institution, he moved to New York to live with his grandmother whereupon, within a few days of his release, he stabbed her as well. She survived; he went to Riker's Island, where he committed suicide within a year.

Savage Grace traces the relationship between Antony and his parents, Brooks and Barbara, from the time of his birth until the fatal knifing. The parents are established as idle sybarites who seem to know everyone important in the world, but cannot contribute anything worthwhile to society. Although Brooks was widely regarded to be an extremely brilliant man, his career consisted of spending his family's money and posturing as an unpublished writer. Barbara is pictured as a woman lacking in the intellectual and social graces necessary to move in the company she and her husband keep. She dotes excessively on her son, and eventually relates to him incestuously.

As pictured here, Antony's childhood lacks any hint of normality. As a boy, he is seducing other young boys, to his parents' dismay. (In real life his mother tried to "cure" him by paying young women to please him, but the film does not mention that, which is just as well because the scriptwriter already had too much on his plate.) As a young man, Antony tests his sexuality in a family environment inimical to experimentation. When Antony brings home a beautiful Spanish girl, his father soon seduces the girlfriend and almost immediately runs away with her. When Antony forms a gay relationship with his mother's "walker," his mother seduces the boyfriend and they soon all end up in bed together.

The entire film is like one of those Dominic Dunne pieces in Vanity Fair in which the decadence of the very rich turns eventually into violence, thence into a media circus trial. The script covers virtually every detail of the Baekeland's anomie, self-loathing, suicide attempts, and sordid sexual escapades, but there is no particular insight on display, nor even a point of view. The film covers 25 years of Antony's life in only 90 minutes of real running time and is spread so thin as to require great temporal leaps over critical periods, yet at other times it seems to dwell at excessive length on scenes which have only minimal relevance to the central thrust of the story. The lead performers are extremely talented (Julianne Moore and Stephen Dillane), and the exotic locales look magnificent, but the film seems to have no good reason to exist, other than to recite the details of the family's moral bankruptcy in the manner of a docudrama.

It's not a pleasant film to watch. The characters are impossible to like because they are immodest, pompous, smug, rude, cold, utterly humorless, and have absolutely no sense of their own fallibility. It's like watching a trailer for a Jeremy Irons film festival. The film's real problem, however, is not that the characters are nasty, because they are supposed to be, but that we don't really know or understand why. When the film was over I felt no sympathy for the murdered mother, nor compassion for the disturbed child, nor understanding of the father. I could not understand how the mother and father could have married in the first place, nor how they could have stayed together as long as they did. Although it is possible to make assumptions about why Anthony became disturbed and angry enough to kill his mother, I couldn't see the direct connection. (The film implies it happened shortly after they had a consensual sexual encounter. Apparently there were many previous violent incidents between them which were not pictured.) When the film was over I felt that there must have been more to the Baekelands than the one-dimensional characters on display here, and that the script did them a great injustice by not developing their characters and motivations more fully. I got the sense that they were interesting enough to make a movie about, but that this was not that movie.



* widescreen anamorphic

* whatever







2.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
41 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
51 (of 100)





6.1 IMDB summary (of 10)
C+ Yahoo Movies





Box Office Mojo. It never reached more than 18 theaters and grossed only $190,000






  • Elena Anaya: full frontal and rear nudity
  • Stephen Dillane: full frontal and rear nudity
  • Eddie Redmayne: brief flash of butt.






Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a film with many positives which ultimately fails to rise above the pack because it is a mile wide and an inch deep.