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‘Saltburn’ delivers cinematically in a cruel tale of calculative lust

From+left+to+right%3A+Alison+Oliver+%28Venetia%29%2C+Jacob+Elordi+%28Felix+Carton%29+and+Barry+Keoghan+%28Oliver+Quick%29.
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From left to right: Alison Oliver (Venetia), Jacob Elordi (Felix Carton) and Barry Keoghan (Oliver Quick).

Barry Keoghan was cast as Joker in a deleted scene from Matt Reeves’s “The Batman” (2022). The timeline doesn’t line up, but you could still probably get away with calling this movie his audition tape for the role. 

The story of “Saltburn” is that of Oliver Quick (Keoghan), a poor Oxford student, who becomes infatuated with the charming, privileged Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) — Elordi for once playing sweet and sensitive person instead of violent and domineering. After slowly developing a friendship, Felix invites Oliver to his home estate of Saltburn for the summer, where Oliver makes the acquaintance of Felix’s quirky family consisting of his parents, sister and cousin. The idyllic summer eventually contracts in on itself like a dying star and explodes, wrecking the lives of everyone in Saltburn. In the end, the movie reveals itself to be the story of Oliver’s survival and ambition. 

Keoghan is mercurial as Oliver Quick. He’s in one frame timid and love-lorn, and then he contorts his smile just the slightest bit and becomes confident and conniving. The character of Oliver acts on every impulse and does it with flair, and Keoghan somehow manages to completely transform between an awkward, annoying nerd and a prowling animal. 

Jacob Elordi is deeply, deeply boring in this. If you were hoping to watch this movie solely for Elordi, you’ll probably like it. A fifth of the movie is a half-naked Jacob Elordi looking at the camera with lazy lust, but personalitywise, there’s nothing there.

The real stars of the movie were the actors playing Elordi’s family. Felix’s cousin Farleigh Start, played by Archie Madekwe, absolutely steals the movie from everyone except Keoghan. He plays Elordi’s American cousin who spends the entire film making snide and petty comments about Keoghan, mostly targeted at his fashion-sense and lower class status. He twirls around the screen and gives inspired line deliveries. Honestly, the difference between Madekwe in this movie and his performance in “Gran Turismo” (2023) shows he has total control on his levels of personality and charisma on screen, and that’s the kind of skill that can make a great star.

Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant and Alison Oliver play Felix’s immediate family. Pike’s Elspeth is a vapid but manipulative mother with no real interest in anyone but herself. She got the second most laughs in the audience behind Madekwe. Grant is Felix’s passionate and stern father. He doesn’t do much, is aloof and content to just be in the room, but he’s competent. Finally, Alison Oliver plays Felix’s sister Venetia, who often finds herself competing for attention with her brother. She has great chemistry with the entire cast and her use of body language to convey the character gave her a great deal of prominence for a role that wouldn’t be all too flashy on paper.

The movie has a great cast and is a glorious watch, but now comes the time to praise the absolute best part of the movie: the visuals. This film is stunning. This is a movie that was made to be seen. This is the kind of movie the eyes must absorb or else live the rest of life without having seen complete beauty. The colors are strong and gorgeous. The composition creates an “Alice in Wonderland” sense of dreaminess and madness, just an absolutely stunning movie. “Saltburn” is hilarious and frightening. The color palette is primarily rich colors with a technicolor bent with many blues, greens, reds and purples. Director Emerald Fennell also makes the inspired choice to keep the film in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio — think early 2000s television. It adds the beautifully vintage vibe. The movie is a wild ride that gets its laughs wherever it can find it, leading to some scenes that shock and delight.

This movie is a worthwhile watch for audiences who wanted Chris Evans to seduce Ana de Armas in “Knives Out,” for people who wish “Gossip Girl” had a dash more of murder in it, for people who understood that “The Secret History” was a satire, and finally, for anyone who would have watched “Spring Breakers” if it had less Florida and tequila and more English manors and ecstasy.

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Mila Ventura-Rodriguez, Staff writer
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    Edward HeatleyJan 29, 2024 at 12:54 am

    It’s difficult to reconcile the author’s view of Jacob Elordi’s portrayal of Felix Catton as “charming, privileged” and a “sweet and sensitive person” but “personality–wise, there’s nothing there.” With the exclusion of the patronising word “sweet”, for which I would substitute the more robust words “kind and considerate”, this is precisely the personality Emerald Fennell requires him to portray in order to make him so obsessively attractive to the envious, socially inferior Oliver at Oxford and susceptible to Oliver’s cunning deceptions. Fennell’s Felix had the good fortune to be a highly popular Adonis figure among the social elites but the misfortune to be born into a family whose vast wealth shielded him from the unpleasantness beyond the wall of his “public” school and the gates of his stately home, Saltburn. While there is something lacking in Felix’s life as portrayed by Jacob Elordi, it is certainly not personality.

    It is perhaps needless to remind ourselves that Emerald Fennell’s representation of Felix and Oliver and all else at Saltburn comes without a hint of social didacticism or moral seriousness. The movie is straightforwardly a brilliantly witty and astonishing piece of iconoclasm from beginning to end, incorporating number of genres, from selective social realism, to vampire blood lust, culminating in a delightfully wicked song and dance routine, Murder on the Dance Floor, performed by the murderer. Nothing is sacred in this movie except the creativity and skilful collaboration between director and acting ensemble which carries the audience to many unexpected places, “…I didn’t see that coming”.

    One quick note, I also was impressed with Alison Oliver’s exquisitely damaged Venetia. Alison is an exceptionally gifted young actor. I loved the whole ensemble. Who can forget Richard E Grant’s caricature of upper-class decorum, “Eat your bloody pie”, shortly after his son’s sudden death.

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