May 30 (Bloomberg) -- Based on the sordid story of an American scion gone bad, ``Savage Grace'' is twisted, depressing and deliberately hard to watch.
Brooks Baekeland (Stephen Dillane) was heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. His grandfather spawned a scientific juggernaut; his father squandered the fruits of that invention and Brooks himself lacked the wherewithal to live up to either extreme.
Throughout the film, Brooks vacillates between living off his name and separating his legacy from his life. He marries Barbara Daly (Julianne Moore), a would-be starlet everyone believes is beneath him. But she was no traditional vixen. Hers is a rags-to-riches account of what it meant to be a beautiful young woman in the 1940s, with nothing to show but everything to prove. The results were bizarrely tragic.
The graphic film's 25-year span reveals the family's sordid life, which includes decadent living, infidelity, mother-son incest and, ultimately, matricide. It was a story tailor-made for tabloid headlines and boldface copy.
Much of the movie centers on the tribulations of Daly and son Antony (Eddie Redmayne). When her husband leaves her to take up with Tony's girlfriend, an Oedipal situation sets in. Tony is constrained by his mother's manic turns, drunken humiliations and psychotic dependence. His retaliation, when it comes, is shattering.
As in ``The Hours'' and ``Far From Heaven,'' Moore sometimes oversells the rigidity of repressed women of the 1940s and 1950s. But Dillane is a natural as the haughty if somewhat slimy Brooks, as is Redmayne's gaunt, conflicted and ultimately unhinged Antony.
Director Tom Kalin (who also made the similarly intense and chaotic ``Swoon,'' about the Leopold and Loeb murder case), takes his time dealing with the intricacies of the Baekeland tale. The result is an occasionally brilliant film that sometimes stops dead in its tracks or veers into histrionic overdrive.
Early on, Brooks shoots his wife a vicious glare and admonishes her, saying: ``Barbara, please. Don't be tedious.'' Caring for her character, you cringe at his condescension; still, there are moments you find yourself wishing Kalin had heeded Brooks's words.