What a missed opportunity we have here. For two thirds of The Burnt Orange Heresy, this art world centered suspense film does a lot of things right. There’s quality acting, a sexy vibe, lovely settings, and a sense of foreboding doom that one can’t quite put their finger on. Then, in the third act, it all goes wrong. Characters begin acting completely randomly, ruining almost all of the goodwill generated by the first two acts. Now out in select theaters, this flick ends up being an interesting failure, when it was well on its way to being a small scale success.
The movie is a drama, mixing suspense and thriller elements, all within the world of art, art criticism, and artists. Art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) is lecturing in Italy when he meets American Berenice Hollis (Berenice Hollis). Drawn to his devilish charm, Berenice jumps into bed with him, revealing herself to be a mysterious young woman, spending some much needed time in Europe. James quickly invites her to the Lake Como estate of art collector Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Thinking that Joseph has invited James for a rather humdrum reason, he expects a simple weekend, one that might impress his new lover. However, that winds up not being the case. Their host reveals he is desperate to acquire the work of reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), more or less that world’s version of J.D. Salinger. He lives nearby and mostly has a hermetic lifestyle. Joseph privately tasks James with stealing a Debney masterpiece from the artist’s studio, no matter the cost and no matter what it takes. So, the couple meets and begins spending time with Debney. Berenice is in the dark, bonding and being charmed by the artist, who isn’t as he seems. At the same time, they all begin revealing things about themselves that change perception. Then, the crimes begin. The less said about the third act, the better. Giuseppe Capotondi directs a screenplay by Scott B. Smith, based on the novel by Charles Willeford. The cinematography is by David Ungaro, while Craig Armstrong composed the score. Supporting players include Alessandro Fabrizi, Rosalind Halstead, and more.
Elizabeth Debicki and Donald Sutherland are the only parts of the film that remain consistent throughout. Debicki’s American expat is a spark plug that the movie desperately needs. As for Sutherland, he’s given a juicier character to play than usual. They both shine, and especially come out smelling like roses in their sequences alone together. Star Claes Bang is at his best when not succumbing to the whims of the plot, while the less said about Mick Jagger, the better. Bang is a mixed bag, while Jagger is stunt casting that doesn’t work, one bit.
The Burnt Orange Heresy mainly just has a misguided focus. If it had either leaned in and embraced its meaner impulses earlier on, or if it had actually cared more for its characters, this might have worked. Director Giuseppe Capotondi and scribe Scott B. Smith had something here, at least in the first section. Their sexier version of the story would have fared better than the bleak one they came up with in the final section. Once it goes off the rails, there’s no saving it.
Now playing, The Burnt Orange Heresy can’t stick the landing. Without the ending being as rough as it is, this probably would have gotten a mild recommendation out of me. Instead, it gets an ever so slight thumbs down. Alas. If you see it, see it for Debicki and Sutherland. Other than that, the mix is just off.
The Burnt Orange Heresy is in theaters now.
(Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)