Director Tom Kalin dropped a sophisticated, sublime movie called Swoon into art houses in 1992, a movie that blended a highly stylized true-crime story with psychosexual fearlessness. He achieves an ever bolder anesthetization of true-crime past with Savage Grace, only his second feature since. It’s the decadent, disturbing drama of the crumbling marriage of Brooks Baekeland (Dillane) — of the Bakelite fortune — and his wife Barbara (Moore), and how it affects their son Tony (Redmayne, as the adult Tony). The story moves episodically from the Baekelands’ tony New York life in 1946 to their time abroad in Paris, Mallorca, and 1972 London, where their extravagant, almost stereotypically idle-rich lives are brutally changed.
It’s how Kalin embraces and subverts wealth’s stereotypes that unearths the most rewards here: Each locality and era is recreated with awareness of the look and feel of cinematic representations of that era, and in each instance you almost feel like you’re watching a parody that takes itself too seriously. But it’s right then that Kalin hooks you — thanks, especially, to a typically fearsome performance from Moore and an astutely controlled turn from Redmayne — setting you up for one of the more psychologically uncomfortable denouements in film this year.