The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019)

Written by:
Paula Farmer
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At the intersection of Noir mystery thriller and art appreciation is the film, “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” by director    Giuseppe Capotondi. When an ambitious, but fallen-from-professional-grace art critic, James Figueras (Claes Bang) gets  approached to steal a painting from an acclaimed but reclusive elderly artist, Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland) and redeem his standing in the art community, James takes the bait. The deal was at the initiation of the odd, beguiling and wealthy art dealer, Joseph Cassidy, portrayed surprisingly, yet somewhat convincingly by Mick Jagger. Joseph lured him into the deal by inviting James and his new love interest, Bernice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) to his estate which is along the elegant and lush coast of Italy. While there, Joseph does a bit of blackmailing to get James’s cooperation, which is initially unbeknownst to Bernice who has actually taken a liking to the elderly artist.

Because James is bored with his “new” life as an art history teacher to tourists in Milan, it doesn’t take much coaxing to get him onboard an executing the theft. As such, he quickly launches a lame attempt to befriend Debney, which is in contrast to Bernice’s sincere and successful execution of garnering Debney’s trust. She is kind to him and demonstrates respect and affection toward him and his work within a matter of hours. This gives James his in … or so he believes. He also thinks his crime was small, but with large benefits to him. Once again, the movie unfolds to prove anything but.

Although the film successfully weaves in aspects of the meaning of art and the cost of selling your soul, aka, value of art and moral values, the first thing that will really attract any arthouse film lover to this movie, is undoubtedly, the cast. It is a small cast making up these four main characters. The older two, Jagger and Sutherland, are in the smaller, supporting, but undeniably pivotal roles. Sutherland is, of course, a legend, bringing gravitas and credibility to any part and every movie he’s in. At this point in his career, he’s worth the price of admission to any project. Jagger too is a musical legend, but also has a recent and impressive history of producing films and occasional cameos. While his presence and role is a bit of a surprise, it’s somewhat believable and effective. As for Bang and Debicki, they may not be as recognizable, but they should be or will be with impressive credits to their seemingly new, short careers already. Physically speaking, both actors are stunning and alluring. He is tall, dark (haired) and handsome, and she is just as tall, fair and beautiful. 

Beyond their physical achievements, so to speak, the two are as alluring, professionally as physically. Debicki seem to sneak up on audiences in 2016 with her role in the wonderfully intense John le Carre TV mini series, “The Night Manager.” The part in this proved she had range and was one to watch. Then she seemed to explode on the big screen two years later in director Steve McQueen’s heist thriller, “Widows.” As for Bang, his “seemingly new career,” is just that- seemingly- because he is a Danish actor with an actual long career in his homeland and Europe. He seems to be new because the few Americans who know of him now, did not so until his lead role in the 2017 odd drama-edy, “The Square,” which was nominated for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language film in 2018.

While the premise of “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is intriguing, the locations and look of it is captivating, and the ensemble is spot on, the script, adapted from Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel, falls a bit short in certain ways. While there is a definite successful Hitchcockian style, the actual story and execution is not as successful throughout. It does not maintain interest and allure. This is because the character interactions and pacing for the first part of the film, are awkward and lacking. Stick with it though, because despite its shortcomings, the strengths of “The Burnt Orange Heresy” make it worth the slow, burning ride.

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