THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY (Sony Pictures Classics, premiering March 6 in New York and L.A.) is a deliciously decadent Hitchcockian suspenser that follows desperation-fueled downward spiral of charming, ambitious, bright bad boy art critic James (the remarkable Claes Bang). Addicted to cigarettes and pills, he has landed in Milan, where he coasts as an art lecturer to greying, culture hungry tourists he gathers in a small classically elegant rented hall. When one session has attractive American visitor Berenice (tall Australian Elizabeth Debicki, careening to major stardom) suggestively lingering in a back row with her own agenda, the two strangers end up at James’ messy but modern Milan apartment for a passionate one night stand.
Next day at his unexpected invitation she joins him on a trip to the gorgeous, sprawling Lake Como villa of wily, wealthy art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger, need we say more?), who has summoned James for a bit of dirty work. The assignment basically requires James, previously known to Cassidy only by reputation and some incriminating dirt the oily dealer has on the once prominent critic, to somehow steal an incredibly rare painting from the art dealer’s nearby tenant who resides in a modest cabin and studio on the edge of his estate. He is legendary reclusive artist Jerome Debney (the ever grand Donald Sutherland), whose extant paintings are nil. Like most landlords, Cassidy has greedy motives: Debney, whose reputation is solid but whose paintings years back were liquified in fires, refuses to share the new canvases he's working on. What a catch one of these would be for the dealer and what an opportunity for James, who would get into Cassidy’s good graces. But where do Berenice and Debney fit into such unsavory intrigue?
Who doesn’t like a smart, flashy film or series about decadent, seductively questionable people that teasingly unspools as pretty as a moving picture through elegant Milan or, more memorably, the waters, woods and villas of magnificent nearby Lake Como? Beyond the rhetorical, the film also delivers superb writing (Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott B. Smith adapted from Charles Willeford’s book), spectacular performances all around (Bang and Debicki are the flawless stand-outs), and career-boosting work from director Giuseppe Capotondi, who knows just the right nanoseconds to silently linger on a telling expression that speaks volumes.
Some might find the third panel of this pummeling cinematic triptych of the contemporary art scene a little too smeary in chronology and final narrative strokes.