Saltburn: another horrible man wins everything

Barry Keoghan and Jacob Elordi in Saltburn

Saltburn is a morality tale, or perhaps a parable. It doesn’t end with a lesson, but a warning. It’s the story of Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), a scholarship student at Oxford who presents himself as poor and orphaned. He pretends to be kind and helpful to befriend Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), and Felix buys into the ruse. There are spoilers ahead.

Saltburn is the huge estate owned by the Catton family. It appears to be inherited wealth, because no one in the Catton family has the good sense to do anything useful. They don’t have the wisdom to detect grifters either, because when Felix brings Oliver home for the summer they fall completely under his spell.

Jacob Elordi in Saltburn
The beautiful Felix

Felix’s family included his father Sir James Catton (Richard E. Grant), his mother Elspeth Catton (Rosamund Pike), and his sister Venetia Catton (Alison Oliver). Various hangers-on and parasites live there, including Poor Dear Pamela (Carey Mulligan).

This film was written and directed by Emerald Fennell. Her previous work includes Promising Young Woman, which I found brilliant. In that film, a wronged woman found a way to bring justice to the horrible men. In this film, the horrible man wins it all. He’s a liar and manipulator who will do anything to take what he wants. True, the riches he sought belonged to a family of idiots, but his methods were sick and disgusting.

Fennell takes plenty of time exploring the sick psychopathy of Oliver Quick. He’s a horrible human being.

Barry Keoghan in Saltburn
The creepy Oliver

What’s Fennell’s purpose in telling a story like Saltburn? Warning us to watch out for the Trumps of the world? Barry Keoghan did a brilliant job playing that kind of character. There are plenty of horrible human beings running around in positions of power nowadays. It’s time we learned how to identify and deter them in their quest for money and power. We need some promising young women to teach them how to behave!

My dislike for the characters aside, the performances and direction in the film were outstanding. Every line, every gesture, every frame all worked to create this masterpiece of manipulation. A skin-crawling masterpiece. I admire the film, but didn’t like watching it.

Thanks for reading this rather unfriendly review of the film. You can watch it for yourself on Prime Video. What did you think about this film?

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