Starring: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland
Director: Giuseppe Capotondi
Running Time: 98 mins
The Burnt Orange Heresy is an American/Italian film about an ambitious art critic who is invited to a luxurious estate to interview a reclusive painter, but his own interests cause the situation to unravel dramatically.
There’s certainly something rather elegant about The Burnt Orange Heresy. It’s definitely not the most engrossing thriller ever made, and really struggles to find its feet for during the first two acts, but there is still more to it than first meets the eye.
Starting with the positives, this film does get rather a lot out of its small but talented cast. Claes Bang and Elizabeth Debicki are both very charismatic, Donald Sutherland has a striking air of mystery about him, and even Mick Jagger impresses in a smaller leading role.
The characters themselves might not gel perfectly, and there are a couple of rather abrupt shifts from the main personalities, but the performances are all good at least.
What’s more is that the film has a captivating elegance to it from start to finish. That’s in part down to its patient pacing which, as we’ll get onto in a moment, also has its downsides, but the film’s setting and visuals too help to give it that graceful atmosphere.
Particularly in its middle act, as the characters interact amidst a luxurious yet empty lakeside estate, there’s something of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty or Youth to The Burnt Orange Heresy, and it’s an atmosphere that definitely helps to keep you engaged even when the story isn’t working at its best.
However, as far as telling a captivating drama-thriller story goes, The Burnt Orange Heresy really struggles. It’s not a terrible story, with a gripping final act that features some thought-provoking ideas, but it takes far, far too long to get to that point.
Despite a striking opening sequence that plays nicely on the film’s themes of the relationship between art and art criticism, the movie quickly turns into a sluggish affair, with dialogue intended to create mystery, but that fails to bring any real intrigue in the moment.
Through the first two acts, the film’s main characters are all presented as skirting around ‘the truth’, whether that be in their identity, intentions or past, but there’s very little sign of what the consequences to the seemingly rampant dishonesty are.
There’s so much focus on the back story of Elizabeth Debicki’s character, but no indication of why it would matter if she’s lying about it or not. Likewise, there seems to be an aura of mystery surrounding both Mick Jagger’s estate, but that’s never really picked up again.
As a result, while the movie is good at creating a light element of mystery, it’s very superficial and doesn’t make for interesting viewing. The slow pacing too becomes really quite tiring, and you eventually lose faith in the film’s ability to give a good pay-off to all this apparent build-up of mystery.
Admittedly, the final act does tie up some loose ends nicely, but it also leaves a lot of questions open. It does see the pace pick up a little, but it also starts throwing in some really rather melodramatic twists and turns that don’t fit the more elegant nature of the movie as a whole.
That all brings The Burnt Orange Heresy to an interesting, albeit rather jarring conclusion. From the start, the film has the potential to tell a really good story, and there’s a lot more to it than at first meets the eye, but it struggles to use its best ideas to full effect, instead building rather superficial tension that becomes quickly boring as a result of its slow pacing. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 6.8 overall.