‘The Burnt Or­ange Heresy’ boasts twisty plot, wicked at­ti­tude — and Mick Jag­ger

Stones’ front­man shines as wealthy col­lec­tor with a big se­cret in pleas­ing piece of art built with sharp lit­tle brush­strokes

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

For­get that cryp­tic ti­tle and the art-world trap­pings and the ve­neer of so­phis­ti­ca­tion af­fected by some of the main char­ac­ters in “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy.”

This is no piece of pre­ten­tious fluff. It’s a grim and nasty but wickedly en­ter­tain­ing bit of busi­ness, sea­soned with sharp lit­tle plot turns be­fore an ad­mit­tedly lu­di­crous but dra­mat­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing twist-on-top-of-a-twist end­ing.

Hey. We’ve got Mick Jag­ger in his first ma­jor film role in 20 years, play­ing a weird lit­tle bully of a wealthy art col­lec­tor. We also have the spec­tac­u­lar El­iz­a­beth De­bicki (“Wi­d­ows,” “The Night Man­ager”) as a Hitch­cock­ian blonde who has fled her life as a Mid­west­ern school­teacher and ef­fort­lessly segued to an ex­cit­ing and dan­ger­ous life as a Euro-trav­el­ing woman of mys­tery.

And … away we go!

Not that Jag­ger’s Joseph Cas­sidy and De­bicki’s Berenice Hollis even know each other at the be­gin­ning of our story (at least as far as we know). Their com­mon bond is one James Figueras (Claes Bang), a learned but deeply cyn­i­cal art critic with a self-de­struc­tive bent who has re­sorted to scrap­ing out a liv­ing giv­ing per­for­mance-art style lec­tures to tourists in Mi­lan.

Berenice at­tends one of those lec­tures and lingers af­ter­ward to call out James on his bull---sand­wich of a pre­sen­ta­tion. Hours later, they’re en­gaged in snappy, cin­e­matic, post-coital ban­ter about whether Berenice is about to head out that door and they’ll never see each other again, or they’re go­ing to wind up mar­ried.

James re­ceives a mys­te­ri­ous in­vite to the Lake Como es­tate of Jag­ger’s Cas­sidy, a filthy rich art col­lec­tor. He in­vites Berenice to ac­com­pany him on the road trip, and of course she says yes, be­cause after all, James and Berenice look like a cou­ple of movie stars who are made for an ex­cit­ing and per­haps dan­ger­ous week­end hol­i­day at a fab­u­lous prop­erty in Lake Como.

The 76-year-old Jag­ger puts that fa­mous Mt. Rock­more face and dev­il­ish per­sona to great ef­fect as the charis­matic and ec­cen­tric and un­nerv­ing Cas­sidy, a peo­ple pup­peteer who clearly de­lights in putting oth­ers on the de­fen­sive.

Turns out the leg­en­dar­ily reclu­sive, J.D. Salinger-es­que artist Jerome Deb­ney is holed up in a guest cot­tage on Cas­sidy’s es­tate, many decades after a fire con­sumed Deb­ney’s life work to that point and Deb­ney van­ished from the world stage. Cas­sidy is con­vinced the se­cre­tive Deb­ney is paint­ing again or per­haps never stopped.

Cas­sidy will pro­vide James with the op­por­tu­nity to meet the great artist and score an in­ter­view, which would be the cul­tural scoop of the last half-cen­tury and res­ur­rect James’ once-promis­ing ca­reer. All James has to do in re­turn is fig­ure out a way to steal a Deb­ney orig­i­nal for Cas­sidy.

Don­ald Suther­land, who has a mere 194 movie and TV act­ing cred­its on IMDb, is per­fectly cast as Deb­ney, who com­ports him­self like an old hip­pie, Zen charmer but has the edgi­ness of some­one whose cir­cuits are some­times mis­fir­ing. Is he crazy — or crazy like a fox?

Deb­ney treats James in the man­ner of a cat toy­ing with a mouse. He’s aware of James’ bona fide cre­den­tials and once-promis­ing po­ten­tial to be­come a world­class critic, but he quickly sizes him up as an oily op­por­tunist, not to be trusted.

Ah, but Deb­ney rec­og­nizes a kin­dred trou­bled spirit in Berenice. If and when Deb­ney lets down his guard and re­veals if there is in­deed a trea­sure trove of fin­ished can­vasses on the other side of a locked door in the guest house, it seems his pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion would be to share his art with Berenice, as op­posed to grant­ing ac­cess to James.

Th­ese de­vel­op­ments only serve to heighten James’ pill-pop­ping fu­eled para­noia. Was it really pure hap­pen­stance that brought Berenice into his life at such a piv­otal mo­ment? Is she in ca­hoots with Deb­ney, or Cas­sidy, or both of them?

Ku­dos to di­rec­tor Giuseppe Capo­tondi and screen­writer Scott Smith for pulling off the tricky feat of adapt­ing Charles Wille­ford’s 1971 novel to the big screen. Props as well to Claes Bang, whose mul­ti­lay­ered por­trayal of the craven James re­minded me of Wil­liam Hurt’s work as a sim­i­larly over­con­fi­dent slick­ster in “Body Heat.”

After some im­plau­si­ble and un­nec­es­sar­ily nasty speed bumps, “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy” finds its way again. The last 10 min­utes or so are pic­ture per­fect, so to speak.

An art col­lec­tor (Mick Jag­ger, left) has a propo­si­tion for a down-on-his-luck critic (Claes Bang) in “The Burnt Or­ange Heresy.”

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