Saltburn Review | Emerald Fennell’s Lewd Knockoff of The Talented Mr. Ripley

A seemingly shy and impoverished college student ingratiates himself into the privileged life of a handsome classmate. Saltburn salaciously romps through obvious psychological machinations, orgiastic revelry, and ruthless elitist culling at a lavish English estate. Body fluids take icky center stage as writer/director Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) gleefully explores a pansexual sociopath’s twisted agenda. She essentially remakes Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley for the TikTok generation with a focus on glittering style and sensationalism over substance. Efforts to shock, disgust, and titillate devolve into banality. There are few surprises in a film that broadcasts its intentions.

The bookish and bespectacled Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) arrives to study at Oxford University in 2006. His clothes are immediately ridiculed by a clique of merciless students. Oliver becomes an outcast on day one, his loser status confirmed when he’s forced to sit with an obnoxious math nerd (Will Gibson). Oliver eats dinner while furtively staring at the popular Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi). Coeds swarm around him like bees hoping for a moment’s notice. Felix’s tall stature, chiseled frame, and model features enthrall everyone in his presence, his dashing good looks and hunky status amplified as a scion of obscene wealth.

Oliver gets a peak into Felix’s upbringing through class sessions with his cousin. The biracial Farleigh Start (Archie Madekwe) mocks Oliver as a worthless plebeian. He laughs as the cool kids party away with hapless Oliver as a bystander. Fate intervenes when Felix gets stuck with a flat bicycle tire on the way to an exam. Oliver graciously offers his ride and will kindly return Felix’s to the dorm. This act of kindness puts Oliver on Felix’s radar. He’s a sucker for sob stories and finds a good one.

Barry Keoghan as Oliver Quick


Release Date
November 24, 2023

Emerald Fennell

Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, Barry Keoghan, Archie Madekwe, Richard E. Grant, Jacob Elordi

2hr 7min

Main Genre

Oliver sadly tells Felix about his drug-addled parents and poor upbringing. An Oxford scholarship was a dream come true. The holidays arrive with Oliver choosing to stay at school instead of returning to his dysfunctional home. Felix refuses to have his new friend alone at Christmas. A joyous Oliver is gobsmacked at the opulent Saltburn. The luxurious mansion nestled in the English countryside takes his breath away. He’s introduced to Felix’s kooky parents, Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), Sir James (Richard E. Grant), and his fetching younger sister, Venetia (Alison Oliver). The Cattons can’t wait to play with their new adopted pet, a sentiment not shared by Farleigh, who’s furious that Oliver has somehow snuck into high society.

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Saltburn is seen from Oliver’s perspective. He’s wide-eyed and astonished by every aspect of the Cattons’ affluence. An army of servants caters to every whim. Eggs are prepared to order at a delectable breakfast buffet of gossiping and giggling about the sordid affairs of their moneyed cohorts. Champagne flutes are constantly refilled as the family sunbathes. Oliver dons his rental tux to play drunken tennis in fancy duds. It’s an adult playground as nights veer into debauched territory.

Oliver’s keyhole snooping of Felix’s bathtub proclivities arouses a smoldering lust. Every Catton becomes an object of desire for him to explore. It’s hanky-panky all around as the toy starts to play with the children. Oliver transforms from the proverbial lamb to a prowling wolf. He teases pleasure like candy on a string. The remarkable change doesn’t go unnoticed by Farleigh. He’s radically underestimated Oliver and begins to understand that a true competitor for the Cattons’ goodwill has emerged.

An Adult Playground

Fennell uses childlike envy and impetuous needs as the tools of manipulation. Oliver’s desperate to hang with the cool kids. He wants to sit at their table, be Felix’s bestie, and radiate in the warmth of his studly hotness. Scenes of Felix towering over the shorter Oliver as he looks up lustily frames a clawing need. But this sexual fervor is transferred to anyone Oliver targets. The spoiled and bratty Venetia falls effortlessly under his spell. The girl that gets whatever she wants has her first beguiling taste of teasing. The wicked game that ensues too easily snares the fickle.

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Saltburn’s critical flaw is apparent in the first act. Scenes of present day Oliver recounting past events show a far more complex character than the younger version he describes. How can the audience be sure he’s telling the truth? You can’t because there’s nothing else to ratify his version of events. An unreliable narrator has the plot’s steering wheel in his grasp, prompting audiences to be skeptical from the start about everything he states as fact. Fennell paints the supporting characters as naive and foolish. They are rich buffoons blithely unaware of a possible rattlesnake in their midst. It’s hard to buy their ignorance or Oliver’s docile demeanor.

Saltburn’s filthy antics, gratuitous nudity, and costumed raves feel like sprinkles on a hollow cake. Keoghan has the only dialogue and performance with teeth. Everyone else looks pretty, acts dumb, and pays the obvious consequences.

Saltburn is a production of MGM Pictures, MRC, LuckyChap Entertainment, and Lie Still. It will be released theatrically on November 17th from Amazon MGM Studios.


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