Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Saltburn’ Climbs The Social Ladder

Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Stars: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Rosamund Pike

Synopsis: A student at Oxford University finds himself drawn into the world of a charming and aristocratic classmate, who invites him to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate for a summer never to be forgotten.

After her Oscar-winning Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell is back with a story that is more wild and filled with performances by an ensemble who go all in to the very end. Obviously, her taste is writing dark comedies mixed with mind-f**king results and she takes it back to the upper classes of Britain with this debaucherous tale. Barry Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a student at Oxford in 2006 who comes from a tough background, namely his parents are recovering addicts. Oliver is a bit socially awkward and seemingly desires to get with a higher clique when he spots Felix, (Jacob Elordi) a popular, wealthy student who takes a liking to him. Towards the end of the semester, when Felix learns that Oliver’s father has died, he lends his sympathy by inviting Oliver to his home, the titular Saltburn country house.

Upon arrival, Oliver is met by Felix’s parents, Sir James and Lady Elsbeth, played by Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike, respectively. Mixing in is Felix’s sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), Felix’s half-American cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and Elsbeth’s friend Pamela (Carey Mulligan), who has outstayed her welcome, yet hangs on staying with the “it” crowd. Farleigh doesn’t have empathy for Oliver and gives his warning to him to that Felix is someone who will cut anyone loose once he is bored of them. Yet, Oliver is invited into Felix’s summer fun which includes huge parties and sunbathing naked as a group.

Where Promising Young Woman is about getting revenge, Saltburn is about climbing the social ladder and usurping affluence from another family. Fennell prods the family dynamics of aristocracy with wickedness and a character, Oliver, totally influenced by The Talented Mr. Ripley. While she sticks the landing with its last twist in the end, Fennell takes a little too long to get there, hampering the flow of the story. The beats in between take on too much water rather than getting into rhythm, almost like it is relying on Linus Sandgren’s beautiful cinematography to keep the story going. The things that carry the film are the audacious performances by the ensemble.

Keoghan doesn’t hold back in his character, who willingly performs outrageous acts that, based on your type of humor, will either have you gagging or cracking up. It’s opposite to the dim-witted character he played in The Banshees of Inisherin and just goes for it. Elordi is having a year with this film and Priscilla as Elvis Presley, but Saltburn has him with a piece of his TV character Nate Jacobs from the series Euphoria. Pike as Elsbeth absolutely steals some scenes with her cold demeanor (“Oh, how wonderful!”) towards others without pulling punches, especially towards Pamela. 

In the end, Saltburn burns a bit too long, but has enough of the English countryside to bring us in like Downton Abbey. Except there is no class and taste, just lies and too much alcohol as Felix finds out quite easily. It’s a naughty film featuring hedonists who want power and favorability, almost like Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favorite, but without the royal connection. Yet, the modernity of high-class scandal is always present and it becomes a juicy subject of Emerald Fennell’s eye and Barry Keoghan’s seductive presence, as exclaimed in the film’s dancing finale.

Grade: B

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