The Burnt Orange Heresy review – a dull, uneven adaption of a Willeford novel

March 22, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


The Burnt Orange Heresy is a dull, briefly brutal, and uneven adaptation of a Willeford novel.



The Burnt Orange Heresy is a dull, briefly brutal, and uneven adaptation of a Willeford novel.

Who doesn’t love a good heist film? I sure do, and I may argue that it’s hard not to make one that is at least somewhat entertaining. That’s what I thought I was getting myself into when I pulled up The Burnt Orange Heresy until I watched a film that makes the caper a backdrop of a movie that’s downplayed and has a psychological approach that’s like walking in knee-high mud to get where it wants to go. Even then, I’m sorry to say that Giuseppe Capotondi’s first film in nearly a decade since bursting onto the scene with La doppia ora (The Double Hour) is a disappointment.

The Burnt Orange Heresy stars Widows Elizabeth Debicki as an American woman, Bernice, who takes a gander at the charming art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang of The Girl in the Spider’s Web fame) and become lovers after they meet at one of his art lectures. Old Jimbo doesn’t want the comfort of a young woman warming up his bed to end — you know those artsy types, they want to keep the good times rolling; so he invites her to the estate of a well-connected collector, Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger, of course). There, he asks Figueras to steal a painting from Jerome Debney’s (Donald Sutherland) when he interviews him at his estate where he gets a glimpse of the famous recluse’s life.

Capotondi’s film was adapted from the legendary crime novelist, Charles Willeford, and was adapted by Academy-award nominated screenwriter Scott B. Smith. The first act is a long, dull experience, and his script falls into the category of “one of those films” where you have each character make some grand entrance to introduce their thinly veiled characters, a revelation or too that’s convoluted with those “sit-down” moments that come out of nowhere. The casting of Bang is the problem here, whose only charm seems to be his accent, and the relationship with Debicki’s Bernice doesn’t ring true — especially when you consider this is the vehicle that drives the story into each act.

Heresy isn’t as humorous as it thinks it is and Debicki is regulated to glibless retorts and set-up lines like, “What would that be, sir?” That’s until an almost show-stopping encounter by the end of the film proves her talents weren’t totally wasted here. Donald Sutherland’s character is supposed to be a J.D. Singer reclusive type, but he is too social, much more charming than our protagonist, and I never once saw him drink any of his own urine. This though is a trademark of Willeford’s colorful characters, which means the overall tone doesn’t fit, even if Sutherland is always comfortable going eccentric or even bananas (Backdraft). Jagger’s stunt casting is over-the-top, which works into the quirky character motif, and is awkward but a welcome splash of color considering the dull pace of its set-up.

The Burnt Orange Heresy has more in common with The Talented Mr. Ripley than, say, The Thomas Crown Affair; based on its brutal turns that almost save it along with a subtle reveal at the end of the film. However, Capotondi and Smith never quite accomplish their goal of capturing Willeford’s underlining themes of not only the overall human price you pay of art, but really the power of fame, and the one that lives in others’ shadows. They were close, but the final 15 minutes does not justify anything less than a casual watch.

For a great film about the love of art versus those who look at it with dollar signs in their eyes, rent Don Argott’s fascinating heist documentary, The Art of the Steal, that leaves the metaphors on the cutting-room floor.

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