A sophisticated thriller with a weird title and Mick Jagger, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a taut tale of a wealthy art collector, a desperate art critic, a reclusive painter and the troubled woman who unites them all. Danish actor Claes Bang plays James, an ambitious art critic who is given the opportunity of a lifetime by the fabulously wealthy Joseph (Jagger), an art collector who has one of the world’s greatest and most reclusive living artists bunking on his Lake Como estate.
With the promise of an exclusive interview with the painter, Jerome (the always perfect Donald Sutherland), Joseph lures James to his sprawling Italian mansion. The film opens with James in Italy giving a lecture on how an art critic gives meaning to art itself; most importantly, his lecture is full of misleading statements and outright lies. He puts up a slide of an abstract painting, tells everyone a terribly sad story about the man who painted it, then reveals the real story behind the painting and invites everyone to marvel at how much their appreciation changes based on what he tells them about the context.
In the audience is a young American woman named Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) and after a brief, saucy Q&A that foreshadows their shaky relationship with the truth, she and James quickly act on their chemistry. Bang and Debicki really make this movie worth watching; even if the mention of art criticism has turned you off, please know there is plenty of excitement and intrigue, even beyond the thorny issues of artistic provenance and critical authority.
I always enjoy seeing relatively unfamiliar actors onscreen, despite my love for our more established movie stars, and these two were masterful: unexpected, intense, riveting and believable. They are also very compelling looking, attractive in unusual ways. Debicki, who will soon play Princess Diana in the Netflix series “The Crown,” is approximately 9 feet tall and weighs maybe 90 pounds, and is a cool, sly beauty, while Bang, who recently played Dracula in a BBC series, has a fascinatingly worn and handsome face.
Little old Mick Jagger is actually terrific as well. This is no mere cameo; he is quite devilish and effective. As Joseph, he manipulates James into obtaining more than just an interview from the venerable Jerome. With most of his work destroyed in a mysterious fire (everything and everyone in “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is mysterious, as you can probably tell by now) owning a Jerome painting is the unattainable dream of every art collector. To get his mitts on one, Joseph must convince the morally murky and highly opportunistic art critic to seek alternate routes to obtaining the painting that gives the film its name.
When we finally meet Jerome, he does not disappoint. In the person of Sutherland, his hard-earned wisdom is written all over his leonine face. With Berenice, he is open and reflective, and they have their own interesting story together in a few well-written scenes. Debicki just sparks off the rest of the small male cast with great authority and intelligence.
Without giving anything away, the film starts with a languid, wordy pace, and then once the viewer has been lulled into a certain mood, a rapid and thrilling conclusion pulls the rug out. “The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a tight, smart mystery built on an unusual premise with great actors who are not overexposed. A rapid run time and a gorgeous setting do not hurt either, and this is a brainy thriller with a definite but not obvious appeal.
“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is currently available to stream for rental.
New This Week:
“Infidel”: A contemporary Middle East thriller starring Jim Caviezel as an American kidnapped while attending a conference in Cairo. He ends up in prison in Iran on spying charges, so his wife goes to Iran, determined to get him out. Regal Mobile Stadium 18.
“Rent-A-Pal”: A loner who is seeking companionship through a series of VHS dating tapes stumbles upon one that promises a best friend in digital form. A horror movie with Wil Wheaton. Video on Demand.
“Antebellum”: An author is faced with a nightmare when she’s sent back to the days of slavery. Starring Janelle Monáe. Video on Demand.
“Blackbird”: Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson and Mia Wasikowska star in this remake of a Danish film about a terminally ill mother who brings her family together one last time. Video on Demand.
“Teenage Badass”: A band gets the chance to play on the local news, but as all of their dreams start to become a reality, the band’s egocentric singer-songwriter threatens to make them lose everything. Video on Demand.
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