Parents' Guide to

The Burnt Orange Heresy

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Pill-popping art drama explores truth; smoking, cursing.

Movie R 2020 99 minutes
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This highbrow adaptation of Charles Willeford's novel still feels like a book. It's thick with eloquent speeches that seem more like lyrical poetry than dialogue; intriguing, highly flawed characters; and doubts about who to trust. The film's literary nature, combined with the Italian location and the high art subject matter, makes for a pretentious movie -- but that's the very idea. From the moment we meet James, we see that he's turned himself into a elitist showboat for whom truth is just an illusion. He quickly attaches to the equally confident Berenice, who's openly hiding her true self. As they debate the merits of honesty on their way to visit Joseph, the film plays out like a mystery (it's not): Where is it all going? Who's the hero, and who's the villain? When those questions are answered, it's not what you'd expect. The ending even takes a bit of digesting: You might have to talk it out to arrive at the conclusion -- which is really more fun, isn't it?

The Burnt Orange Heresy is neo-noir -- bright and light instead of dark and shadowy -- and while Bang and Debicki are full of talent, they're not Bogart and Bacall. Their characters are charisma vacuums, one so arrogantly unethical and the other so smugly clever. She seems too smart to be willing to spend her time with a man who's so unworthy of her. Clue crumbs are there to pick up, but viewers might need a whole loaf of bread to understand some of her decisions. Co-star Donald Sutherland, playing an artist living in self-imposed exile, is a true talent, but he isn't believable here. And even though he's styled as a well-groomed upper-crust patron of the arts, it's impossible to accept Jagger as anyone other than himself. Still, it's fun to watch him: It's a rare opportunity to just look at his craggy face and think about the full life he's lived. The Burnt Orange Heresy is a piece of statement art, and while it doesn't paint its picture as clearly as a parent might like, the brushstrokes will fill your thoughts for days.

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