in 1992 tom kalin directed his first film. that film was Swoon, about the true crime story of the famous leopold and loeb case. he then pulled a terrence malick and waited 15 years until 2007 when he released his second feature, Savage Grace about the true crime story of the baekeland murder (he made about six short films in the meantime).
now it doesn't take elvis mitchell to see the connection between kalin's films. they are of course both based on true crime stories and very famous ones at that. you might not be as familiar with the baekeland murder case (i know i wasn't), but who hasn't at least heard of leopold and loeb. however, besides that, these are two quite different films in the way kalin decides to tell the story.
Swoon feels like it is a crime drama/experimental film. they obviously didn't have much of a budget and the film seems as though it has decided to make that a part of how it feels. the film takes place in the 1920s and they obviously didn't have the money to afford large sets or lots of period-appropriate costumes and cars, etc... so the film is shot very close to the vest so-to-speak. if the characters are in a room you just see as much of the room as you have to. if they are driving in town then you will see their car and maybe a building, but don't expect lots of wide establishing shots of the city and other vehicles.
what this does is focus all our attention on leopold and loeb and their relationship and how it leads to the crime and what happens afterward. while this all sounds good in principle, it didn't fully work for me in that, after watching the film i couldn't really decide why it was such a famous case. i mean, toy guys decide to kidnap and murder a boy.... it is horrible, but i don't think they were the first two guys to ever do that, so why did this case take on such huge proportions and become so famous that even today people know the names leopold and loeb?
i have some ideas, but not because the film gave them to me. more so, because i created my own ideas from the facts that the film gave me, plus what i know of the era, etc... now, maybe that is what kalin was going for. more concerned with the relationship between the two, and not so much the case itself. i liked the film, but it felt a little empty when it was over.
with Savage Grace, kalin goes a little more traditional root in his story telling. the film is shot in a much more classic way and with the bigger budget comes more locations and period settings. the film also felt more complete to me... the characters and the development of their emotional attachments and eventual undoing took their time and developed over the course of the film (i don't want to say too much in case some of you don't know the story and what takes place).
the performances in both films are great. the two guys playing leopold and loeb are good and then in Savage Grace you have the always good julianne moore and the guy who plays her son is great. his name is eddie redmayne, which i thought was a joke since he actually has red hair. i have never seen this kid before, but he was just superb. he has this presence on screen that will be something to watch in the future.
i'm not sure why they would release Savage Grace right in the middle of summer since it is definitely good enough and has much more of an end of year awards season vibe to it. but, this is what they did, so while i'm sure the academy will forget about it in january, you shouldn't forget about it now and go check it out.