"The Burnt Orange Heresy" is a tantalizingly chilling thriller
Director Giuseppe Capotondi’s take on Charles Willeford’s 1971 art-world crime novel is filled with electric and noirish performances
With the clock ticking and little time to spare, James Figueras - an ambitious art critic - has fallen from grace with hopes to try and restore his name, entangling his lover into his connivery.
Director Giuseppe Capotondi’s take on Charles Willeford’s 1971 art-world crime novel is filled with electric and noirish performances by the three main leads: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki and Donald Sutherland. Mick Jagger, the rock legend, portrays a deceitful gallery owner, returning to acting for the first time in almost 20 years. Jagger and the starry international cast deliver an entertaining, feverishly-hot European thriller that has you uncovering the mystery that lies within each character’s enchanting aura.
Claes Bang, a Danish actor who first sparked attention in an art-world bubble of a different sort, Ruben Östlund’s 2017 satire “The Square,” plays James Figueras, a suave art critic who apparently doesn’t lead such a suave life. The charismatic Figueras makes all attempts to try and recover his tarnished name to regain credibility since he has been labeled a failed art critic. The film opens with Figueras rehearsing his presentation, getting dressed and prepared to put on a performance for a group of aged tourists who watch him attempt to defend his noble profession with a devilish smirk. Figueras fools and ensnares his listeners with a combination of half truths and whole lies, appearing to have no principled or honorable issue with the idea of double-dealing.
If the viewer is familiar enough with these types of stories, they might already be able to predict what darkness lies ahead for these characters. When art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Jagger) invites Figueras and his American lover Berenice Hollis (Debicki) to his lavish Lake Como estate, Cassidy strikes a deal with the critic in exchange for offering an interview with Jerome Debney (Sutherland), a notorious and reclusive artist. Figueras is asked to steal a masterpiece from the painter’s studio at whatever cost — but how far is he willing to go to risk mending his name? The power of the critic is often revealed throughout the film in parallel to the idea that art — like love — is something that you can make or fake. With greed and precariousness, the initial scheme begins to unravel into absolute havoc.
This eloquent, Italian-set romance-thriller that epitomizes the life of a drug-muddled art critic who hopes to earn back his reputation in a cutthroat industry brings the viewers’ attention to themes expressed through the artwork exhibited in different scenes. Its prickly plot and characters’ twisted performances keep the audience guessing — up to a point. Capotondi’s film should be recognized for its ability to make the viewer feel like they are a part of the film. With an impressive classical score, composer Craig Armstrong does a notable job at enhancing the feeling of being present in the scene with the actors. Bringing the viewer’s attention to the minute details on the actors faces and surrounding environment, the film makes you feel as if you can be a part of the ambience. Any shortcomings in the film aren’t at the fault of the actors, who make the contrived and often predictable plot entertaining.
Ultimately, “The Burnt Orange Heresy” has a deceptively simple plot to follow, showcasing many themes, ranging from war and suffering to wealth and greed. This enticingly, gripping exploit will leave you saying “Ah hah” once the dots have been connected.
However, viewers are left with a simple question: Will Figueras be able to free himself from the cave he created for himself?
“The Burnt Orange Heresy” will be in theaters on Friday, March 6, 2020.