ST. LOUIS — Fake it until you make it, they say. But what about the cost?
You know, the one that accumulates on your soul like unpaid taxes as you fool your way to notoriety or relevancy, whichever one suits you. A burden of truth that seems to yank a person down to the bottom of the ocean, where everything else chilly to the bone resides.
From the moment "The Burnt Orange Heresy" opens, we can tell James Figueras (Claes Bang) is a dangerous man. A liar who admits it, James knows how to persuade people; it's something he's done in the art world as a critic for many years. But what is the basis of his merciless criticism? Did he once aspire to be an artist instead of the reflex?
If anyone can tell, it's the innocent yet observant Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki), who meets James after one of his "classes" to unassuming art fans. Before you can grab another drink from the bar, the two are being swept off to the luxurious and vintage Lake Como estate of Joe Cassidy (Mick Jagger, having too much fun), a well-known art collector. There's a reason behind this meeting, and it has a lot to do with the reclusive genius of a painter known as Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland, still ruggedly compelling after all these years).
I don't want to tell you much else, other than the fact that you shouldn't trust anyone and take a shot of bourbon every time you hear a fly buzz around the scenery. If you drink a decent amount, I imagine this movie's final third would land better. While I didn't hear the clear sound of a thud when the finale expired, I was rather disappointed in what I was given. What the film had led to believe it was happened to be a fraud, only to have another speed be introduced just after the hour mark. I didn't like the idea.
That doesn't mean I'd say the swing was poor. The cast is devilish enough to try and pull off the material. Bang seems to be settling into a particular brand of seductive sleaze with this and Showtime's "The Affair," but his rhythms fit the plot and outline of the film here. Debicki was far better in Steve McQueen's "Widows," but she doesn't drag the film down here. I'd describe her as unfortunately blending into the surroundings instead of standing out. Sutherland and Jagger are assured in their choices here, but they aren't onscreen for that long. It's Bang and Debicki's(which could be a great name for a podcast) show and their characters simply aren't interesting enough.
You know he's bad news, but simply can't guess how much. She's either innocent or quietly cunning, and neither shade would help the film too much. You don't spend enough time with them to truly understand them, but maybe that's the point.
I'd like to think Giuseppe Capotondi had a point when he took Scott Smith's adaptation of Charles Willeford's novel, and gave it the cinematic treatment. Maybe the director got caught up, like an art lover would, in the colors and initial shock value of the story-and then lost his touch in weaving the pages into convincing visuals. Or he got to where he wanted to go, but I didn't care for the road taken.
"The Burnt Orange Heresy" indulged my cinema senses, pulling me into its maze of seduction and deception that art and its criticism-dispensers can entrap one inside of for quite some time. But in the end, I was left out in the cold with characters I didn't care for or admire that much. Made up characters need one to succeed, and both to truly thrive. While it looks slick and tries to go boldly cold in the end, Capotondi's film ends up being a mess. Maybe a good television show, but not a great film.
I got where it wanted to go. I simply didn't buy it. Instead of being a true piece of art, "The Burnt Orange Heresy" is just a slush of colors on a frame with nothing really to it outside of the torn shreds you discard from your notebook once the story has been written.
I'd watch "The Thomas Crown Affair" instead. That film has purpose.