Jagger the wooden stone plays his part for art: BRIAN VINER reviews The Burnt Orange Heresy
The Burnt Orange Heresy (15, Cinemas)
Verdict: Complex but satisfying
Mogul Mowgli (15, Cinemas)
A complex thriller set in the world of fine art, The Burnt Orange Heresy is no masterpiece but well worth looking at, not least for the exquisitely agonising spectacle of Mick Jagger acting his heart out, if not his lips off.
I will always bow down to Jagger the rock god, but as an actor he gives precious little satisfaction. Playing a filthy rich, decidedly oily art collector called Joseph Cassidy, he recites his lines irreproachably, even throwing in a sly inflection here and an elongated vowel there, but it is one of those performances you watch with a knot of anxiety in case it gets any more wooden.
Jagger has a list of feature-film acting credits going back half a century to the likes of Performance and Ned Kelly. But that doesn’t make him any good. Here, unhelpfully for him but mercifully for the rest of us, he is shown up as an amateur by the expertise around him. If you were to invert the scenario … well, my wife suggested it would be like Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies fronting The Rolling Stones, but that seems a tad harsh.
Artful dodgers: Mick Jagger acts his heart out in this complex thriller set in the world of fine art with Elizabeth Debicki
By contrast, Danish actor Claes Bang is perfectly cast as urbane art critic James Figueras, who appears to have conspired in a Giacometti fraud; ditto Elizabeth Debicki as his American lover, Berenice Hollis, and not only because she has a long, thin, Giacometti body (none of which is left to the imagination in a raunchy early sex scene).
That old master Donald Sutherland gets to flex his acting muscles, too, which is always a treat. He plays a reclusive artist called Jerome Debney, who lives on Cassidy’s palatial Lake Como estate.
Following an arresting opening, in which James dazzles a bunch of American tourists by eloquently explaining how easily they can be manipulated into thinking a bad painting is good, he and Berenice, his new girlfriend, visit Cassidy on Lake Como.
The smarmy rascal wants James to steal for him what even extreme wealth cannot buy — a rare, original Debney. Hence the film’s curious title. It is the name Debney has given to a canvas, intending to befuddle critics into wondering what its meaning is, when in fact there is no meaning. Giuseppe Capotondi’s film, adapted from Charles Willeford’s 1971 novel of the same name, is full of such slick, clever digs at the fine art establishment.
At times, however, Scott Smith’s screenplay is too slickly clever for its own good. The dialogue snaps and fizzes but in a kind of headache-inducing way, as we struggle to keep up with everyone’s erudite wit. There is also a clunky, recurring fly metaphor to which I yearned to take a plastic swatter.
All that said, Debicki and Bang are both splendid, the former whetting the appetite for her Princess Diana in the final two seasons of Netflix’s The Crown, while the latter compounds his stature as one of the most compelling actors in the recent Scandinavian invasion of English-language cinema and television.
Moreover, his near-immaculate English accent in this film, with just the tiniest hint that he might not be the debonair Mayfair gent he affects to be, exactly reflects his character. As James begins to reveal his true colours, The Burnt Orange Heresy takes on the feel of a Patricia Highsmith adaptation such as The Talented Mr Ripley or The Two Faces Of January, beguiling us with its twisted plot and sumptuous settings.
There is nothing at all sumptuous about Mogul Mowgli, the story of an Anglo-Pakistani rap star superbly played by Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film and uses his own talent as a rapper with the Swet Shop Boys to give it real credibility and emotional purchase.
He plays Zed, whose New York career is on the verge of lift-off when his American girlfriend shames him into visiting his orthodox Muslim family in West London. For someone who is always rapping about where he comes from, she points out, he doesn’t go home much.
Anglo-Pakistani rap star superbly played by Riz Ahmed (pictured) who is shamed by his girlfriend into visiting his orthodox Muslim family in West London.
So back he goes, before a major European tour, but is soon diagnosed with a life-threatening auto-immune condition which makes him re-evaluate his origins, identity and lifestyle.
There are some slightly challenging fantasy sequences but on the whole this is a really admirable independently made British film, powerful, moving and at times very funny, nicely directed by Bassam Tariq and fully electrified by Ahmed’s livewire performance.
For refugees in Essex, the only way is terrifying!
His House (15, Netflix)
Verdict: Wall-to-wall chills
Relic (15, Cinemas)
Verdict: Scares Down Under
Shirley (15, Cinemas)
Verdict: Superbly acted biopic
Theis Netflix release His House builds a horror story out of the predicament of two South Sudanese refugees who set up home on a grim Essex council estate
While Halloween may be a little muted this year, it is screeching and wailing as loudly as ever on screen. The Netflix release His House builds a horror story out of the predicament of two South Sudanese refugees who set up home on a grim Essex council estate.
Matt Smith, light years from his stint as the young Prince Philip in The Crown, plays a social worker who introduces Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku, both pictured right) to their new lodgings with the ironic words: ‘Amazing, innit? It’s a palace.’
Alas, it is anything but. And to make matters much, much worse, its walls seem to be inhabited by a malevolent witch who has followed them from Africa.
The feature debut of short-film maker Remi Weekes, His House is not without flaws. But it is atmospheric, has unexpected twists and neatly incorporates racism in the plot, like a cut-price Get Out.
Relic is another first-time feature, by Australian director Natalie Erika James, and is co-produced by Jake Gyllenhaal. Like His House it spins horror and dread out of a commonplace situation, in this case dealing with an elderly relative with dementia. Emily Mortimer (making a very convincing Aussie) is excellent as Kay, whose mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) seems to have gone walkabout from her secluded home. When she turns up, Kay and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) think the nightmare is over. Naturally, it is only just beginning.
Shirley directed by Josephine Decker, is not a horror film. Rather, it’s a compelling 1950s-set drama about a real-life American horror writer, Shirley Jackson, played quite brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss as a difficult, volatile agoraphobic.
In her fiery relationship with her academic husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg, also terrific) there are strong echoes of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, but it’s her growing influence over Rose (Odessa Young), a young woman married to Stanley’s university protégé, that gives the story powerful momentum.