Film Review: The Burnt Orange Heresy

STUDIO: Sony Classics | DIRECTOR: Giuseppe Capotondi | CAST: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland
RELEASE DATE: Aug. 7, 2020 (with more theatrical dates coming later in August)
SPECS: R | 99 min. | Thriller | 2.39:1 widescreen

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 3Dishes.jpg (40×13)

A tale of art and deception—and the art of deception—The Burnt Orange Heresy is based on a 1971 book by Charles Willeford, the pulp novelist whose work was the basis for 1990’s Miami Blues, the memorably rowdy crime movie starring Alec Baldwin, Fred Ward and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The setting for the book has shifted from Florida’s Everglades to gorgeous Milan and the Lake Como area of Italy. Claes Bang (The Square) plays a British art critic who meets American teacher Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) during one of his lectures about the nature of trickery within the art world. The two proceed to forge a hot-and-heavy relationship, and Debicki joins Bang when he meets with a wealthy art collector (Mick Jagger) on his palatial estate. Jagger enlists Bang to get whatever paintings have been done by a famous reclusive painter (Donald Sutherland, The Hunger Games series) who happens to be living in anonymity on his property. For his effort, the critic is promised the possibility of interviewing him—the first interview the artist has ever done–which would lead to a big boost in Bangs’ career.

Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy.

The Burnt Orange Conspiracy has the foundation for being a whip-smart cinematic game of duplicity and one-upsmanship, sort of like Knives Out with Easels. Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi (The Double Hour) gets the style and mood correct, but Scott Smith’s script has many loose ends and never takes the potentially knockout thriller premise as far as it needs to go.

The lead actors certainly appear to be into it, with Debicki mixing smoldering sensuality with a sense of disingenuous naivete throughout. At the same time, the handsome but suspicious Bang sends out a macho but reckless vibe as he pops pills, continually undresses and chain smokes throughout the  proceedings. In smaller roles, Donald Sutherland is the eccentric artist who communicates primarily by making pretentious pronouncements about life and art, and Mick Jagger, a welcome sight, plays the reptilian art dealer out to prove he always gets what he wants.

The Burnt Orange Conspiracy was taken off its studio’s original March release schedule when COVID-19 hit, and is now making it into limited theaters and VOD not far behind. It will be issued on Blu-ray and DVD on August 25.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.