The surprises are hardly surprising, but as the pieces fall into place The Best Offer proves itself to have all the right parts. Reminiscent of, but certainly more subdued than, Giallo films of the ‘60s, The Best Offer follows Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), a successful antiques dealer who has a secret collection of priceless portraits he’s acquired through an auctioning con with his friend Billy (Donald Sutherland). Virgil collects these paintings of women to substitute for the lack of true connections in his personal life. He isolates himself, weary of interacting with other people on a meaningful level.
Things begin to change, however, when he’s called by the reclusive Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) to evaluate her deceased parents collection of rare art and furniture. While Virgil and Claire have a few tumultuous interactions, they soon grow fond of one another and Virgil begins seeking romantic advice from his young friend Robert (Jim Sturgess), who’s working with him to realign old mechanical pieces Virgil has taken from Claire’s basement.
Virgil finds himself uplifted. Transformed. And that is where the trouble begins.
Written and directed by Giuseppe Torantore (Everybody’s Fine, 1990), nothing is ever quite as it seems in this dramatic tale of art, love, fear, and deceit. The more enamored Virgil becomes with Claire, who spends the first half of the film hiding in a secret room in her parent’s villa, the more obvious it becomes that the other shoe is about to drop. The audience is aware of this all along, and yet this two and a half hour film proves itself to be interesting enough to remain engaging.
The cinematography is rather gorgeous, both dark and artistic in all the ways one would expect this sort of film to be. The camera lingers when it should and jumps when it should. Indeed, through the camerawork, the filmmakers are able to successfully portray Claire and Virgil’s contradictory natures, emphasizing Claire’s sense of confinement in a large, empty house and amplifying Virgil’s sense of loneliness in a busy, crowded world.
Rush (Shakespeare in Love, Pirates of the Caribbean) is indeed a high caliber actor who gives a high caliber performance, somewhat over the top at times but always on the mark. Virgil is a wounded individual, and Rush, who possess the kind of voice that sinks into the pores, plays the unwinding of him with just the right touch of grounded madness.
Sturgess (Across the Universe, Upside Down), typically known for playing romantic underdogs, is all charm and clever grins as Robert, who seems almost too good natured to actually be a noble heart. Their friendship is intriguing and the two have surprising chemistry onscreen as unlikely friends.
Donald Sutherland (Pride and Prejudice, The Hunger Games) manages to do a great deal with very little in the role of Billy. Over the years he has crossed into many different genres, and yet this seems to be a new one for him that he slips into flawlessly.
Sylvia Hoeks (The Girl and Death) is elegantly mysterious while still managing to possess a certain level of withdrawn awkwardness. This is a considerable feat, particularly since the character of Claire is the kind seen a hundred times before. The fact that Claire’s voice is established early in the film, while her face is not revealed until much later, adds to her sense of mystery.
The Best Offer is a sharply modern film with an old fashioned tone, particularly in terms of character and score. The DVD menu looks like a classic ‘50s film poster and the structure of the narrative seems greatly influenced by the old, surreal Italian thrillers. This form is both the film’s greatest triumph and ultimate downfall, for while it proves unique amongst modern cinema, the story arc is ultimately a generic one. Established through marketing as a suspense film, the lack of suspense through a majority of the movie leads the audience to correctly assume that established facts of the narrative are actually untrue.
This is the kind of film that would certainly benefit from further discussion by the cast and crew, it almost feels like a cult film without actually succeeding in being one, but unfortunately, the DVD comes with no special features aside from the trailer. A great deal is left to the audience to determine, which some might find to be a more favorable conclusion than others.
With Virgil’s unraveling comes the unraveling of the narrative and there are perhaps a few too many things left unsaid by the end, but the journey itself is a carefully crafted one. The characters are vibrant and dedicated. The colors are deep and intriguing. When all is said and done, The Best Offer is an average script that has been executed at a higher caliber. It’s moving, curious, and leaves the gears of one’s mind turning even after the final frame closes.