Movie: THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY
Rating: R, some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence
Release Date: August 7, 2020
Jeanne: Someone needs to take Mick Jagger and give him the role --- a bigger one --- which he deserves. He’s delightfully smug here in THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY --- and somehow still alluring, much like he was in THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS. However, he needs a more prominent presence and better writing. Even the brilliant Donald Sutherland is sidelined in this screenplay by Scott B. Smith. And Director Giuseppe Capotondi commits the gravest sin by allowing his film to fall flat in the second half.
Claes Bang stars as the debonair art critic James Figueras, who is long on charm but short on funds. He is reduced to giving shlocky lectures on art to American tourists in Milan. A mysterious blonde named Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) happens into one of his talks and the next scene has them enjoying a romp in the sack.
Instead of ending it there, James invites Berenice to accompany him to the Lake Como villa of wealthy art collector Joseph Cassidy (Jagger). Upon arrival, James learns that Cassidy is housing renowned artist Jerome Debney (Sutherland) on his property.
Debney’s entire collection went up in smoke a few years earlier and Cassidy believes he is again painting while a guest at his palatial estate. No one owns a “Debney”, so Cassidy has tasked James with securing one --- whatever the cost. And --- as we all know in these situations --- the cost can run very high.
It all sounds much better than it is executed. Everyone does their part, but when the writing is lacking, there is only so much the actors can accomplish. Based on the book by Charles Willeford, THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY runs amok halfway through the film. The beginning is promising enough --- is James a total fraud --- could Berenice be a spy sent by Cassidy?
Alas, the movie is not that intriguing and turns out to be hugely disappointing. What should have been an art lover’s thriller --- it has all the makings --- slides into a mundane experience with a ridiculous ending.
Bang is absolutely handsome and posh, but that isn’t enough to help him carry the entire movie. Even Jagger at his enigmatic best can’t save THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY. His role is too brief, unfortunately. Sutherland, whose screen presence is infallible, provides a great deal of the cryptic interest in play. But, again, the character development isn’t there and we only get a taste of what might/could have been.
The biggest disappointment lies in the casting of Debecki. She’s supposed to be this sensual, ethereal beauty and yet she’s not. She and Bang have positively no chemistry whatsoever. And though Sutherland’s Debney is meant to be smitten with her after only a few moments together, that’s unbelievable as well.
THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY had the potential of being a true cat-and-mouse escapade, instead it turns out to be a total snooze. And that’s saying a lot considering Capotondi had Lake Como for a backdrop.
Opinion: Don’t Bother!
David: THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY sounds like an expose of Donald Trump, but in reality it’s initially a light-hearted story that evolves into rather dark territory.
It is one of those films that begs the question “Where is this going?” The movie gets off to a good start showing art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) rehearsing a presentation he will make to a small gathering of American tourists. The clever editing flips back and forth as he goes over lines in his Milan flat and alternates ahead to the actual delivery of the lecture. He regales his audience with a teaser about a work of art and then reveals the truth about its origin. The reaction is one of laughter and admiration. Clearly, at this point, James has won over the movie viewer with his confident, nice guy image.
As the talk begins, a pretty blonde named Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) takes a seat at the back. She is the last to leave the room when the lecture is over, and she and James, to no one’s surprise, have immediate chemistry. And again, to no one’s shock, the next scene has them in bed. At least director Giuseppe Capotondi and writer Scott B. Smith (based off the novel by Charles Willeford) don't waste any time getting to this point.
Before James leaves his lecture room, he repacks a bunch of his books that no one purchases. We didn’t realize at the time, but this bit of foreshadowing, along with a phone call on his answering machine informing him his check bounced, would indicate that he needs money. The Danish-born Bang, known to TV fans of “The Affair”, plays the classic suave, handsome James Bond type to perfection. And Debicki is great as the foil for James not overplaying her part.
The other two stars in THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY are Mick Jagger as British art collector Joseph Cassidy, and Donald Sutherland as the elderly Jerome Debney, an artist of great fame who uses a studio on Cassidy’s lush estate looking over Lake Como in Italy.
Jagger is compelling in a rather brief turn, portraying a greedy, slightly smarmy and exceedingly wealthy connoisseur of fine art. He hires James to secure (i.e., steal) a painting of Debney’s to add to his collection. Debney, meanwhile, a known recluse since a fire years earlier destroyed his life’s work of paintings, challenges James to perform an underwater, two-lap swim in Cassidy’s pool. Completion of this task would give James the right to interview Debney for publication --- and so he acquiesces.
For most of its 98 minute run time, THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY builds slowly until the final 15 minutes unveils a dramatic turn of events. Is it worth the wait? I believe so. I did not mind the film’s deliberate pace as I found the give-and-take between James and Berenice entertaining. And the 77-year-old Jagger is a hoot, although I found his presence a bit distracting since he is, after all, the lead singer in one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands of all time.
The ending of THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY may not satisfy some moviegoers as it leaves the resolution up to the viewer. Truthfully, I like the way the film concludes. Now if you are seeking a high level of suspense out of this film, you’re likely to be disappointed. But I believe the movie is at least worth a look.
Opinion: Wait for VOD