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The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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February 26, 2024

“Saltburn”: A three-ring circus of glorious chaos

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@saltburnfilm
What starts as a typical drama becomes a comedy and erotic thriller — numerous twists continuously reframe and throw this character-centered narrative off its axis. “Saltburn” is an absolute riot.

Drunk strangers stumble through the snaking hallways of a mansion. 20-year-old wine overflows from glass goblets, staining silk tablecloth. Cocaine snows upon the dense hedges of a backyard maze. Nothing more than a typical day at the Catton family’s Saltburn estate.

Director Emerald Fennell’s sophomore effort, “Saltburn,” follows lonely Oxford student Oliver “Ollie” Quick (Barry Keoghan) as he strikes up a friendship with the rich and charismatic Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), eventually getting invited for a summer stay at Felix’s family compound. What starts as a typical drama becomes a comedy and erotic thriller — numerous twists continuously reframe and throw this character-centered narrative off its axis. “Saltburn” is an absolute riot.

Fennell is the star of this show, shining as both the director and writer. Her work behind the camera with cinematographer Linus Sandgren is majestic, especially in her frenetic montages that propel the story forward at a wicked pace. Her zippy directing style is perfect for a film like “Saltburn,” which constantly aims to catch the audience off guard. Viewers might turn away from the film’s visceral and freakish moments of intimacy, but many scenes are so uncomfortable that they cross the line into the hysterical. These sequences are so hilariously repulsive that they’ve gone viral across social media. Fennell dances in the story’s absurdity, bringing them to life in unimaginably entertaining ways.

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Fresh off an Academy Award nomination for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Keoghan makes a statement in his first major leading role. Ollie is a mesmerizing protagonist, beginning his performance as a relatable every-man but slowly revealing himself as someone far more theatrical. His psyche and behavior are difficult to comprehend, yet Keoghan’s balance of quiet moments and uncontrollable bursts of emotion are astounding. Ollie is a character nobody else could have played quite like Keoghan.

Additionally, Elordi brings unexpected layers to Felix. Felix isn’t the most sympathetic character — his good looks and money define his personality — but Elordi finds his humanity. His friendship with Ollie is heartfelt, as Felix genuinely wants to know him. Felix certainly sees the convenience of a lavish lifestyle, but his grounded and likable character is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise mean-spirited story.

The supporting cast also shines wonderfully. Veteran actors Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant bring the expected gravitas as the matriarch and patriarch of the Catton family. Still, up-and-comers Archie Madekwe and Alison Oliver steal the scenes. Madekwe charmed his way through “Gran Turismo” earlier in 2023, though his range-expanding turn as the snobby cousin of Felix, Farleigh Start is anything but. A maddening character who just needs to get sucker-punched in the jaw, Farleigh constantly humiliates and quarrels with Ollie. On the other hand, Felix’s sister Venetia Catton (Oliver) is far more attracted to Ollie, perhaps a little too much. She fills out some of the more intense scenes in the film with a soft and cheekily assertive presence. 

Thematically, the script is jumbled, but it’s a purposeful mess. As Ollie is thrust into a family of great wealth, the commentary mirrors Catton’s lifestyle — superficial and scatterbrained. The Catton family, plagued by crippling mental illness — depression, eating disorders, drug abuse — ignore their various problems, just as the film subversively only touches on each theme briefly. Fennell’s grab-bag approach to writing might sacrifice cohesion, but in return, she embarrasses materialistic people who bury their flaws to retain an illusion of power. Her script weaponizes familiar commentary on the oblivious upper class, portraying hilarious self-awareness instead.

Unfortunately, while the thematic undercurrents work, the ending doesn’t pack a similar punch. Fennell’s writing remains surprising and gleefully vulgar, but she sacrifices interesting ambiguity for Ollie’s motivations. For a story that could have sent Ollie down many different paths, she picked maybe the most boring trail to tread. Her third act is gift-wrapped with too many answers, clashing with all the mystery she previously worked meticulously to build.

If audiences embrace the chaos of “Saltburn,” it’s undoubtedly an electrifying experience. One more pass at the script may have cleared the clutter of the third act, but the manic energy of Fennell’s direction and writing, along with the performances from the entire cast, is infectious. “Saltburn” is a refreshingly lionhearted film, bleeding with some of 2023’s incredible creativity.



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About the Contributor
Rylan Ammerman, Opinion Writer
Grade 12 Why did you join The B&W? To share my opinions and passions with the community. What is your favorite song? You Make My Dreams (Daryl Hall and John Oates)

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