Directed by: Emerald Fennell
Premise: A working class Oxford freshman (Barry Keoghan) befriends a wealthy popular student (Jacob Elordi). He accompanies his aristocratic friend to the family castle for school break where he meets the wealthy family.
What Works: Saltburn has a wacky pitch and the actors are on board with the material. Barry Keoghan plays Oliver, a working class college freshman who is plunged in a world of extreme wealth. Oliver is an outsider with ulterior motives and Keoghan does a good job presenting both aspects of his character. Jacob Elordi is cast as Felix, the big man on campus who takes in Oliver during the school break. Felix is wealthy and privileged and he represents a masculine ideal but Elordi makes Felix the most human character in the movie. Also impressive are Rosamund Pike and Richard Grant as the parents. They have some of the best dialogue in the movie and although they are playing broad characters Pike and Grant are also believable as people who live in their own world. Saltburn is sexy and audacious. The film is lit and photographed in ways that accent the organic beauty of the people and the locations and Saltburn has a visceral visual texture. The actors put themselves in outrageous situations and the film earns some credit for its willingness to be so sexual especially in this ascetic era of Hollywood filmmaking.
What Doesn’t: While Saltburn earns kudos for its brazenness, the attempts to shock come across desperate. There’s nothing really dangerous or meaningfully transgressive here. The film acknowledges obsession and economic inequality but Saltburn isn’t really about anything. The filmmakers seem to think they’re making American Psycho or The Rules of the Game but Saltburn has none of the insight or intelligence of those films. The movie is ultimately empty. The story mixes a familiar fish-out-of-water scenario with a comedy of manners and a psychopath thriller. The parts don’t fit together and it gradually becomes obvious that the filmmakers have no idea what their film is about or what story they are trying to tell. Saltburn has nothing to say and the outrageousness plays as a distraction from the vacuity at the center of the film. That’s especially evident in Oliver’s story which begins as one thing and switches to another but not in a way that makes sense. Oliver’s motivations and methods don’t cohere. Saltburn is baggy and aimless. The story’s lack of focus or purpose leaves the filmmakers grasping for direction and the movie meanders to an ending that doesn’t really conclude anything.
Bottom Line: Saltburn is a disjointed mess. It has committed performances and some impressive cinematography but they are not in service of anything meaningful. The filmmakers want to be satirical but Saltburn is too dumb to be subversive.
Episode: #975 (December 3, 2023)