(Starz/VOD) Adapted from detective fiction writer Charles Willeford’s novel, this film is oddly not much of a potboiler, and not terribly thrilling. It does, however, attempt to examine critic-as-artist and vice-versa, as well as the different masks one wears in order to operate in order to ingratiate yourself to others in society, which gives it the trappings of a prestige neo-noir.
To summarize: art critic James Figueras (Claes Bang) hooks up with an enigmatic woman named Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) and the two of them go on a road trip to visit his friend/art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger — yes, Mick Jagger). James is handed the possibility to reinvigorate his career by scoring an interview with the reclusive ‘last great modern artist’ Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), who just happens to live on Joseph’s Italian estate. Plans misfire culminating with an end that you may or may not enjoy. (That said, the final realization is extremely satisfying and, I imagine, taken from the book.)
As this is a ‘prestige’ genre flick, director Giuseppe Capotondi takes it slow, giving you all the time in the world to revel in the fantastic backdrops and production design* while the characters talk circles around each other. It is a nice distraction because the mysteries and secrets aren’t terribly intriguing, and the characters are maddeningly paper thin. While the film is explicit about its themes of critic-as-artist/artist-as-critic/the many masks folks wear, the execution is rather facile, and rarely paid much more than lip service. For example: Debney bluntly states to Bernice that “It’s masks all the way down.”
It’s disappointing because novelist/screenwriter Scott B. Smith (A SIMPLE PLAN, THE RUINS) penned the adaptation, and he certainly has a tendency towards noir-like duplicity and the ramifications of distrust, but there is very little friction or underhandedness on display. It feels as if Smith couldn’t quite get a bead on how to approach the adaptation.
However! This film does scratch a certain itch for me and, despite the wasted potential of Bernice, Debecki wrings as much out of it as she can, and Jagger is a delightful surprising, turning in a restrained devilish performance that — as someone who has seen FREEJACK — didn’t think he had it in him. Worth a watch if your tastes are THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY-adjacent.
- See https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/creating-the-italian-neo-noir-style-of-the-burnt-orange-heresy if you’d like more info on the film’s production design.