THE BURNT ORANGE HERSY
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Giuseppe Capotondi
Screenwriter: Scott B. Smith based on a novel by Charles Willeford
Cast: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/20
Opens: March 6, 2020
There are more ways to commit high crimes and misdemeanors than those we’ve seen recently at a trial in the United States Congress. Typical are large ones like bank robberies, smaller ones like street muggings. Fascinating movies have been made about the former like “Bonnie and Clyde” and the latter by the 2004 movie “Mugged.” Now “The Burnt Picture Hersey embraces an unusual crime, its execution exquisitely planned and carried out by a people with an intimate knowledge of the art world. It helps mightily that Giuseppe Capotondi, whose “La dopia Ora,” about an ex-cop and a chambermaid who meet at a speed dating event, indulges a witty, fast-talking script by Scott B. Smith and a pair of actors who are adept at the verbal sparring that is so much a feature of Charles Willeford’s noir novels.
Like Capotondi’s “La dopia ora,” (“The Double Hour”), the first part of the film features dialogue you might expect at a classy and prestigious off-Broadway theater like The Promenade and The Cherry Lane. There is not a wasted word in the repartee enjoyed by Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki) and Claes Bang (James Figueras). (Bang is Danish while Debicki’s roots are Polish and Irish.) During an extended date at Italy’s Lake Como, the American and the European delight in sparring like the candidates in the Democratic Party debates. Just when the theater audience believe that they are in for an evening of a simple romantic fling before the couple go to their separate homes, the plot spins delightfully out of control. If you are familiar with Charles Willeford’s fiction, you can see why that author’s 1971 novel from which the movie is adapted is considered by critics to be his best work.
The opening scene features art critic James Figueras in the midst of wowing an American audience in Milan, explaining a surreal painting on the wall. The painting may not look like much, yet Figueras calls it virtually a masterpiece—wrapping up his spiel with an acutely comic finale. This is where he meets Minnesotan tourist Berenice Hollis (Elizabeth Debicki), who comes on to him and is invited on a trip to the Lake Como estate of art collector and gallery owner Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger), who has invited Figueras to use him for a job that will leave Cassidy with clean hands.
Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), a recluse who is living on the estate, shows up, allowing himself to be interviewed by Figueras, the two guests charmed by the world-famous painter. At the same time Figueras figures that he can further his languishing career. He increases his creds as a critic, but far more important for him is a chance to make millions, and therein lies the thriller.
What does director Capotondi want us to take away from the story aside from providing us with some breathtaking chills and thrills? Probably the idea that we do not really know each other whether from simple meetings like a weekend date or even after years of thinking that we can see beneath the surface of our friends and associates. Scott B. Smith’s script is largely responsible for the wit and razzle-dazzle of the conversations, and the quartet of Sutherland, Debicki, Bang and Jagger provide the human touch that do justice to the words.
98 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+