As true stories go,

Savage Grace

- about the mid-20th century beauty

Barbara Daly

, her marriage to

Brooks

Baekeland

, heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune, and her incestuous relationship with and murder by

Antony Baekeland

, their son - has to be among the more twisted ones out there.

"The behavior is so, so extreme," says

Julianne Moore

, who stars as Barbara Daly in the film opposite

Stephen Dillane

(Brooks) and

Eddie Redmayne

(the adult Tony). "

Savage Grace

was sent to me by [producer]

Christine Vachon

, who I've made a bunch of movies with -

Safe

,

Far From Heaven

. And I called her afterwards and she said, 'Oh, I knew you'd like this, I knew that this was for you!' And I laughed, but I felt the same way. I was really, really interested. . . .

"It's about being compelled by a story, I suppose. And how can you not be compelled by this story?"

Indeed, as directed by

Tom Kalin

(

Swoon

) in six chapters that span the period between 1946 to 1972,

Savage Grace

is a tale of taboo love and murder, of desperate pursuits of wealth and social status, of the total implosion of a family. The film opens Friday at the Ritz Theaters.

Daly, whose own father had committed suicide when she was in her teens, was a striking redhead who briefly pursued the idea of an acting career. She went to Hollywood in the early 1940s for screen tests, but decided that wasn't for her.

"What was most interesting to me about the screen tests was that she didn't like acting," says Moore, on the phone from her home in New York recently. "She thought it was too much work!

"So she left. She came back to New York City and continued dating. Her goal was really to be in society, and to marry a rich man."

Kalin's film is based on the book of the same title by

Natalie Robins

and

Steven M.L. Aronson

. Moore pored over its pages, looking for ways into Daly's character.

"You have facts to work with," she says. "You have people's recollections, people who said that she was dynamic and pretty and funny and fun to be with. At the same time they would say she was voraciously needy and narcissistic and childish, and that they didn't want to go to dinner with her. . . .

"So, I took all that kind of stuff, all that information about her behavior, and I start to formulate a character.

"And, also, her behavior changed the older she got, the nuttier she got. I think certainly there was some mental illness there, and probably alcoholism and drug abuse, too. Pretty rough stuff. Those are all the clues you have to who she was."

Over the years, Moore, 47, a four-time Oscar nominee, has ably shifted between commercial studio fare (

The Fugitive

,

Hannibal

), prestige pictures (

The Hours

,

Far From Heaven

), and edgier, indie fare (

Safe

,

Children of Men

). In September, the thriller

Blindness

- with

Danny Glover

and

Mark Ruffalo

- comes out. It showed at Cannes last month.

Savage Grace

was at Cannes last year. She has also worked with

Paul Thomas Anderson

in

Boogie Nights

and

Magnolia

, and was a key player in the

Coen Brothers'

The Big Lebowski

, one of the films, and roles, that she most often finds fans stopping her on the street to discuss. ("Constantly!" she reports.)

Married to the director

Bart Freundlich

, with whom she has two young children, Moore has just done a small role in her friend

Rebecca Miller's

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

. "Then I plan to take the summer off," she says. And how does she think

Savage Grace

, with all its decadence and dysfunction, will be received by audiences?

"I don't know. I hope people go," she says. "But that's something you can't concern yourself with too much as an actor. You have to do the work and make the movie that you would like to make, and then after that it's out of your hands."

Short takes.

If things go as planned,

Matt Damon

will star in

The Human Factor

, a

Clint Eastwood

-directed project based on South African rugby star

Francois

Pienaar's

unlikely alliance with President

Nelson Mandela

. The film, to be shot in South Africa early next year, is an adaptation of

John Carlin's

book

The Human Factor: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Changed the World

, about trying to heal the deep national fissures of apartheid over a rugby scrum. Damon will star as Pienaar and

Morgan Freeman

, who's worked with Eastwood on

Unforgiven

and

Million Dollar Baby

, will play Mandela. . . .

Mr. Madonna

, a.k.a. British director

Guy Ritchie

, has signed on to write and direct a kind of comic book-y rethinking of

Arthur Conan Doyle's

sleuthing hero, Sherlock Holmes. The film will combine the usual Holmesian pastiche stuff with more of an action-hero motif. Some of the 19th-century London detective's physical skills - boxing, fencing - will come into play. . . . And French comic-book author

Joann

Sfar

is set to shoot a biopic of

Serge Gainsbourg

, the poet, singer, actor, director (and

Beck

hero) famous for his provocative pop ditties and dalliances with sex icons

Brigitte Bardot

and

Jane Birkin

. Actress

Charlotte Gainsbourg

is the late French popster's daughter.

Media That Matters film fest.

No need to venture further than your laptop to check out some new films - twelve shorts presented by Arts Engine, a media org dedicated to showcasing documentaries based on social issues. The eighth annual Media That Matters Film Festival includes

Anwar Saab's

Hammoudi

, about a boy in war-torn Lebanon, and

Every Third Bite

, about the disappearance of honey bees and its effect on the world's ecosystems. (Disappearing honeybees is also a theme in

M. Night Shyamalan's

The Happening

, opening Friday.) Other shorts in the online festival deal with hip-hop and African politics; what to do with electronic waste; the impact of mandatory drug laws; Tibetan nomads, and teenage activists. Check it out at:

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.