Saltburn (2023)

MGM/Amazon Studios
CAPSULE REVIEW (500 words or less)

I was excited at the idea of Saltburn, writer/director Emerald Fennell’s follow-up to her debut, 2020’s Promising Young Woman, a movie I adore. Fennell is a true talent, a fresh voice and vision, and I was excited to see what she would come up with next. Add to it that she had chosen Barry Keoghan, who stole last year’s critical darling The Banshees of Inisherin, to star in the film. I was all in. But then I saw the trailer (always a mistake), and I got a sinking feeling that came to fruition upon seeing the movie itself.

Saltburn markets itself as edgy and daring, but, for me, it feels far too reminiscent of other films, most notably The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). In both films, a poor young man becomes obsessed with the life and lifestyle of a wealthy and handsome man, befriending and ultimately destroying him, with the hopes of making his life his own. It was impossible to shake the comparison to Ripley with Saltburn while I was watching it, but I still tried to revel in Fennell’s audaciousness, coupled with a truly game and committed performance from Keoghan.

Keoghan’s performance is bold and compelling, but there’s something about him as an actor that prevents him from truly grabbing the screen, as he has a tendency to fade into the background a bit. It doesn’t help that, in most scenes, he is paired with Jacob Elordi, Hollywood’s new It boy (Austin Butler, we hardly knew ye), who towers over him and could cut glass with that jawline. But, unlike the distinct chemistry between Matt Damon and the boggingly-beautiful Jude Law in Talented Mr. Ripley, Keoghan and Elordi just don’t mesh. In fact, their performances work in some ways to repel each other, putting Keoghan somewhat on an island on his own.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much, as the film is more about Keoghan’s character’s obsession than any distinct relationship, so everything and anything else is disposable anyway, which is too bad for Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant, who give it their damndest. There are scenes that are designed to make the audience uncomfortable, and two absolutely succeed in doing so, at least for me, but the film still didn’t lose me, although it did disappoint. I was committed to seeing it through, to see how far Keoghan and Fennell would take it, and it certainly is worth staying to the end, if not for the sheer audacity, because, to be honest, that’s really all Saltburn has going for it.

Saltburn is currently available to stream on Prime Video.