CALLERI: Acts like Jagger. Rock icon stars in new art heist thriller

Mick Jagger plays an art gallery owner in the thriller, “The Burnt Orange Heresy.”

Mick Jagger plays manipulative art dealer Joseph Cassidy, a man of wealth and fame, in “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” an elegant thriller that carefully builds to a rather surprising conclusion.

Jagger has long been interested in the motion picture business, having acted in films, written songs for features, and produced a number of successful works.

With his deservedly legendary band the Rolling Stones, Jagger appeared in “Gimme Shelter,” the seminal documentary about the chaotic free concert at northern California’s Altamont Speedway in 1969, as well as in Martin Scorsese’s vibrant “Shine A Light.”

France’s reigning cinematic iconoclast, Jean-Luc Godard (still making films at age 89), used scenes of the Rolling Stones recording and rerecording their hypnotic song “Sympathy For The Devil” in his social and political treatise – part fictional narrative, part realistic documentary – “One Plus One,” which is sometimes called “1 + 1” and also “Sympathy For The Devil.”

Acting has long been a passion of Jagger’s, and he doesn’t approach it as a precious dilettante might. He’s serious about the craft and has acquitted himself well, having acted in the vibrant “Performance,” as well as in “Ned Kelly,” “Freejack,” “Bent,” and “The Man From Elysian Fields.”

Imagine this casting coup. Jagger auditioned for the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter for the movie version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but the part went to Tim Curry. Think of the possibilities.

In September 1997, I chatted with Jagger at a cocktail party during the Toronto International Film Festival. Jagger showed up to support his friend, actress Helena Bonham Carter, whose film “The Wings Of The Dove” was being shown.

A studio publicist knew I favored the Stones as a rock and roll band and that they were appearing in Buffalo that October. I had tickets for the concert. This was the “Bridges To Babylon” tour. She introduced me to Carter and Jagger, and he and I talked about how much he enjoyed appearing in Buffalo. We also talked about Carter’s festival entry and my never-ending appreciation of Jagger’s 1970 movie, “Performance,” which deconstructed gender roles in imaginative ways. He and I agreed that it’s a film that deserved its influential reputation.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” may not be as innovative as “Performance,” but it carefully examines the art world and the psychologically crushing need to succeed. Or, in the case of one of the characters, a celebrated painter named Jerome Debney, not care at all about success.

Debney, played by Donald Sutherland at his most delightfully off-kilter, has settled into a reclusive lifestyle. His genuinely loopy persona – he speaks in Alice In Wonderland-style riddles – is one of the mysteries at the heart of the movie that will need solving.

The enigmatic Debney will become a target for art dealer Cassidy, whose entire reason for being seems to give a forceful lie to the phrase “you can’t always get what you want.”

Cassidy, smoothly played by Jagger with the coolness of a cat, knows exactly what he wants, a virtually impossible-to-own painting by Debney, who seems to have a propensity for setting fire to his completed work before it’s seen by the public.

In a gorgeous villa on Lake Como in sun-dappled Italy’s northern lakes district, Cassidy plots his satisfaction. He’s invited an art critic named James Figueras to his home with the hope that the critic, who’s writing career is in a rut, will help him score the Debney painting he covets.

The writer, played by Claus Bang with a glorious touch of rugged weariness, is reduced to giving mundane lectures about the history of art and guided tours of museums to curious folks with a lot of time on their hands. He likes to play a theoretical trick on his inquisitive audience.

One of attendees at a lecture is an intelligent woman named Berenice Hollis, alluringly acted by Elizabeth Debicki, whose dense veil of mystery equals her deep beauty. She and the critic begin a sexual interlude. He invites her to Lake Como. You can’t help but wonder if their encounter was preordained?

How is Debney going to give up a painting, if one even exists? Cassidy offers the critic an exclusive: an interview with Debney himself if he can help participate in putting the squeeze on the artist to part with a painting. Interviewing Debeny could re-start Figueras’ career. New fame will fall on him as quickly as flattery tempts the easy mark.

The set-up is perfect. The crotchety old artist is staying in a small house on the grounds of Cassidy’s villa. Just walk down the garden path. Is temptation always this easy?

All of this introduction is just that, the riveting prelude to intrigue and a jolting closing thirty minutes.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and written by Scott Smith. All hail their successful creative partnership. David Ungaro’s superb cinematography delights the eye. The production and technical values are exceptional.

The acting is sublime. Every main character clearly has a secret and each member of the cast harbors that secret with perfection.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a delight, an intelligent thriller in which guilt and innocence have multiple meanings. The heist film merits the honorific, Hitchcockian.

The movie is suitable for adults and older teenagers. It’s on DVD and can be streamed on a variety of platforms, including Vudu, iTunes, and Fandango Now.

Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette and the CNHI news network. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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