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Movies & TV

22nd Oct 2023

REVIEW: Saltburn is the most shocking point of Barry Keoghan’s career

Rory Cashin

Saltburn

Prepare yourself… because with Saltburn, the Irish actor has delivered an incredible warning shot to other young actors around the world.

Who had Barry Keoghan blazing a trail as the homme fatale in an darkly comic erotic thriller on their 2023 bingo card? Not us, that’s for damned sure.

In a CV that is already littered with unforgettable moments… killing cats in Love/Hate, confronting the Troubles in ’71, torturing Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, being killed ignobly in Dunkirk, appearing out of nowhere in The Batman, or waving goodbye to his dreams in The Banshees of Inisherin… they all pale in comparison to moments in Saltburn.

There are at least four scenes in Keoghan’s new movie that will be scorched into your brain for hours, days, weeks after the end credits have rolled, with at least one of these causing a unique physical reaction within the viewer. Your brain will be screaming to both look anywhere but at the screen, while simultaneously making it impossible to tear your eyes away from what’s happening.

Saltburn is going to get a lot of Barry Keoghan fans talking…

Keoghan plays Oliver Quick, a Liverpool student who has just started at Oxford University, a bit of a loner surrounded by the children of the rich and famous. Before long he is taken under the wing of Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), channeling the energy of an ego-free Abercrombie & Fitch model, who attempts to fold Oliver into his own closely-knit group of friends and family.

At the end of the college year, Felix invites Oliver to spend the summer at his family home – the titular reclusive castle estate – where we meet Felix’s mother Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), father James (Richard E. Grant), sister Venetia (Alison Oliver), cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), and family friend Pamela (Carey Mulligan), and it is here, slowly but surely, that all hell begins to break loose.

Writer and director Emerald Fennell – hot off the Oscar success of Promising Young Woman – is paying obvious homage to literary classics like Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr. Ripley, there is just as much evidence that Fennell simply wanted to make a gender-flipped remix of the erotic thrillers that were oh so plentiful in the 90s.

The upper, upper, upper class setting and absolute anaphylaxis brought on by anything associated with the hoi polloi might make it initially seem like it is made of classier stuff, but don’t let that fool you. The gold-plated veneer scratches away to reveal Fennell and Keoghan have secretly been at work on their take on Wild Things or Single White Female or The Last Seduction.

It helps that Fennell keeps thing moving at a proper clip thanks to some absolutely viciously dark one-liners (following the demise of one of the characters, another remarks dryly that “They’d do anything for attention”), and the entire endeavour hums along with the constant energy of sex about to happen, sex currently happening, or sex having just happened. Yep, this is a remarkably horny movie.

And then there are moments involving Keoghan which we have successfully talked around without spoiling, but have properly prepared you for. In a fair and just world, these scenes alone would get Keoghan (yet another) Oscar nomination, but these scenes, his character, this entire movie, it all feels a tad too risque for the Academy to take too seriously. We, on the other hand, should take it very seriously, because this is once again proving that Keoghan is one of the most fearless performers in the world right now.

Saltburn arrives in cinemas in Ireland and the UK on Friday 17 November.

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