The Burnt Orange Heresy - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Photo Credit: TIFF

Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Photo Credit: TIFF

‘The Burnt Orange Heresy’:  Bang, Debicki, Sutherland, and Jagger draw up a highly-engaging thriller

Directed by:  Giuseppe Capotondi

Written by:  Scott B. Smith, based on the novel by Charles Willeford

Starring:  Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland, and Mick Jagger

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” - “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” – Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), “The Godfather” (1972)

“Let’s get a little crazy here.” – artist Bob Ross 

From the very beginning, it’s difficult to get a read on James Figueras (Claes Bang) and Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki).  Assured and knowledgeable, James delivers a slick and measured art lecture – with explanations of brushstrokes and hues that tie to a remarkable history lesson – but in the process, he twists the room of engaged, wide-eyed listeners into knots, but in a most gratifying way. 

James orchestrates a magic trick of sorts…and then reveals his secrets. 

If this magician - wrapped in art critic/dealer clothing -  figuratively escapes from a straitjacket while trapped in a water tank today, these fascinated patrons would drop serious coin to watch him saw a lady in half next week.  Apparently, James is particularly skilled at delivering surprises, or from another perspective, maybe he’s comfortable swimming in pools of deceit. 

Berenice wanders into his classroom, and through an initial physical attraction, a fascination with the art world or perhaps a long ago-decided calculation, she willingly wishes to be his trusty assistant, one on equal footing.  This eye-catching pair – who could double as Prince Charming and Cinderella – might look like royalty, but they – individually - carry grifter-vibes which invite trouble. 

In director Giuseppe Capotondi’s highly-engaging noir thriller, James and Berenice step into jaw-dropping opulence in the form of a massive villa at Lake Como, Italy.  Here, art collector Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) presents James with an offer that he cannot refuse, and it involves a character – who will not be described in this review – played by Donald Sutherland. 

In a case of the immovable object versus the irresistible force, James has to fight an uphill battle while Berenice – who somewhat sits on the sidelines - may or may not be sharpening her own sword.

Writer Scott B. Smith introduces several prickly points and warm creature comforts that lay the groundwork for mixed emotions.  Rather than stretch the material into 150 minutes, Capotondi keeps the picture at 99.  The film delivers flurries of strikes within a shorter-than-expected window, so the pain pierces deeper, not because of long periods of exposition that allow the audience to bond with the leads, but just the opposite.  James and Berenice do not truly know one another that well.  We don’t either, and hence, as the events unfold, we need to play catch-up, and like James’ opening scene, the film offers surprises. 

What might be a terrific surprise is how accomplished Jagger is on the silver screen.  The Rolling Stones frontman is certainly not shy of a big stage, and he dazzles here as Cassidy, a smooth aristocrat (in the monetary sense) who seems to have all the answers.

In 1982, director Werner Herzog said of Jagger, “(He’s) not a good actor, that would be wrong to say.  He’s a sensation, and no one has realized that.  What a performer…just incredible.”

Herzog’s words ring true, as Jagger’s Cassidy intimidates by conveying unwelcome personal truths with a soothing suave grace and smiling eyes, that will instantly trigger an immediate desire to retreat. 

Cassidy and Debney (Sutherland) reveal more to the audience in a few minutes than James and Berenice would divulge over a month of Sundays.  This, however, is all by Capotondi’s and Smith’s chosen design, and Bang, Debicki, Sutherland, and Jagger hold on tight to the movie screen’s four corners, because “The Burnt Orange Heresy” gets a little crazy which – like art – leaves a lasting impression.

(3.5/4 stars)

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008, graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.