There are movies about true crimes that are just exploitive attention-seekers, and then there are those that really move you, even though you know how the story ends. Sadly, Savage Grace is neither, and for that, the director should be ashamed.
The story certainly has potential: an unhappy marriage between an eccentric actress and a cynical heir which results in the birth of the heir to their twisted power plays. Young Tony grows up with an overbearing mother and a mostly absent father who later steals his girlfriend and leaves his family to be with the young woman. Tony writes his father pleading letters, begging him to come back. At the same time, he seeks solace in his relationships with other men and later gets entangled in an incestuous relationship with his “Mommy”, the stunning Julianne Moore. In 1972, Tony finally loses it and kills his mother with a kitchen knife. We are told that this tragic young man spent eight years in the psychiatric ward of a prison, then was released and put himself into the care of his grandmother, whom he also attacked but did not kill a short time after his arrival. This time, he was packed off to Riker’s Island, where he killed himself.
Yes, lots of twisted and horrible material here to work with, as well as a fine ensemble of actors. And yet, the movie sucks. First of all, at 97 minutes, it is too short for a theatrical release. The early phases of Tony’s life are jumbled and seem like badly edited pieces of a longer film. Sadly, because of this, the viewer fails to establish any sympathy for any of the characters, and so we are not particularly shocked or moved at the ending.
Secondly, apparently well into the Seventies, gay men were really a lot more ambiguous or possibly flexible about their sexuality than they are today, as nearly all gay characters express interest in or even have sexual relationships with women. Voluntarily. For the heck of it. I don’t buy it.
Thirdly, throughout 30 years, Barbara never ages. Her husband does. Her son grows up. She looks the same. Perhaps she invented the surgical makeover Brigitte Nielsen just went through on tv.
And lastly, someone PLEASE teach these Germans how to pronounce English names if they must dub all their movies. The fifth time Tony’s German voice called his father “Bruhks”, I wanted to kill him.
So, if you are at all interested in the drama of the family that inherited the Bakelite-fortune, do yourself a favor and wait until they make a TV movie about it.