Emerald Fennell, the talented director behind the critically acclaimed “Promising Young Woman,” is back with “Saltburn,” a film that promises to leave its mark on the 2024 award race. Premiering at the Telluride Film Festival, “Saltburn” is a cinematic experience that dazzles with its style, swagger, and a bold performance by Barry Keoghan.
Fennell’s previous work earned her five Oscar nominations, including a nod for Best Picture, but “Saltburn” seems destined to divide critics and audiences alike. The film follows the journey of Oliver, portrayed by Barry Keoghan, a college student who becomes entangled in the world of a charismatic and aristocratic classmate, played by Jacob Elordi, during a summer visit to his eccentric family’s sprawling estate. It’s a story that draws comparisons to “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with early reviews sparking passionate debates among viewers.
Some have embraced “Saltburn” wholeheartedly, while others have raised their voices in disagreement. Yet, history has shown that polarizing films like “Vice” and “Joker” can still secure numerous nominations and wins. However, there’s a fine line between boldness and overwhelming excess, as seen in last year’s “Babylon,” which struggled to find favor with voters.
Emerald Fennell’s presence in the Oscar race is significant. In 2020, her nomination alongside eventual winner Chloé Zhao marked a historic moment with multiple women nominated for directing. Another strong contender, Greta Gerwig, who helms “Barbie,” is a former nominee for “Lady Bird.” Both directors could earn their second directing nominations, aiming to follow in the footsteps of Jane Campion, the only female filmmaker nominated twice for directing.
Barry Keoghan’s performance in “Saltburn” solidifies his status as a leading man in the industry. In a daring and captivating portrayal, Keoghan takes center stage, baring it all both physically and emotionally. While his role goes beyond being just “creepy,” there’s a concern that Keoghan might be typecast, potentially obscuring his brilliance from voters. His mesmerizing dancing sequence in the film’s finale promises to be a topic of discussion for years to come, although male frontal nudity has historically posed challenges for Oscar voters.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards ensemble prize would be a fitting recognition for the exceptional cast surrounding Keoghan. Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike shine as deadpan yet flamboyant parental figures, and Carey Mulligan‘s brief appearance leaves a lasting impression. Pike, in particular, is a strong contender for a supporting actress nomination.
Jacob Elordi’s performance as the magnetic Felix is a delightful surprise, offering tenderness in a role that mirrors Timothee Chalamet‘s memorable turn in “Call Me by Your Name.” His performance might resonate with the Golden Globes or Critics Choice awards.
From a technical standpoint, “Saltburn” stands out as one of the year’s most visually stunning films. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s work possibly even surpasses his Oscar-winning achievements in “La La Land.” Production, costumes, and editing are all elements that could garner support, while the immersive sound design, featuring evocative tub-water slurping and expertly chosen needle drops, should not be underestimated.
As “Saltburn” embarks on its journey through the awards season, it remains a captivating enigma. Predicting its final standing is challenging, with possibilities ranging from a multitude of nominations to a complete shutout. The film’s performance at Telluride, its only festival stop so far, sets the stage for an intriguing few months ahead, as we eagerly await the unfolding drama of Oscar contention.