Film review: THE BEST OFFER, from Built For Speed

Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore evokes Hitchcock with his latest film The Best Offer, a strange, fascinating and intricately crafted story of romantic obsession, high art and anxiety disorders.

Geoffrey Rush stars as Virgil Oldman a wealthy and powerful British art dealer and auctioneer operating in Rome.  Elite in his field and an elitist in general, Virgil’s pompous, irascible and intolerant manner, not to mention his germaphobia, has left him almost incapable of forming lasting relationships within anyone.  His only loves are the entrancing beauties depicted in the pre-Raphaelite paintings that adorn a huge secret room in his house.  His only friends are Billy (Donald Sutherland) the man who has aided Virgil’s dubious scheme for acquiring these paintings and Robert (Jim Sturgess) a young, highly skilled repairman who tries to give Virgil advice about women.  Virgil’s life takes an unusual turn when a mysterious and troubled woman named Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) asks him to value the vast antique furniture and art collection that fills the sprawling villa left to her by her deceased parents.  Apparently afflicted with agoraphobia, Claire refuses to meet Virgil face-to-face creating a tense and often hostile relationship. Slowly, they begin to warm to each other and for the first time, romance seems possible for Virgil even though there are still many unanswered questions about the puzzling Claire.  To reveal any more of the plot would ruin this carefully constructed mystery. Suffice to say the story cleverly goads us down a number of paths never allowing us to be entirely certain where its heading. Like the forgeries that Virgil tries to expose, the film adroitly plays with our perception of what is real.

Apart from the pleasures of its curly plot, the film is a visual feast with superb cinematography from Fabio Zamarion that vividly captures the splendour of Virgil’s ornate privileged world, the creepiness of Claire’s decaying villa and the timeless allure of the artistic masterpieces on display throughout the film.  Aficionados of portraiture and antiques will be beside themselves watching this film.

Geoffrey Rush delivers one of his finest performances here as he slowly peels back the layers of Virgil’s character to reveal a man who is at once imperious and contemptible, amusingly mischievous and devastatingly sad.  Sylvia Hoeks is wonderful playing a woman who is as stunning and enigmatic as those depicted in Virgil’s private art collection. Donald Sutherland, whose long white hair and beard makes him looks like Santa Claus, offers fine support in a small but pivotal role.  Jim Sturgess as the relaxed, confident pretty boy Robert, offers a striking counterpoint to the ageing, socially awkward Virgil.

The knotty script is filled with metaphors, red herrings and clues about the mysteries behind Claire and Virgil.  Some of these references are subtle and clever but a few are a little obvious and may as well have been delivered by Basil Exposition from the Austen Powers movies.  For the most part, though, the components of this story fit together with remarkable ingenuity and create a moving, intriguing and aesthetically stunning film.

Nick’s rating: Four stars.


Director(s): Giuseppe Tornatore.

Release date: 29th Aug 2013

Running time: 124 mins.


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