By George Wolf
“Emotions are like works of art…they can be forged.”
That line from writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore‘s The Best Offer strikes at the heart of an often captivating mystery that becomes hampered by contrivance.
Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman, a leading figure in the Vienna art world. A master auctioneer, Virgil is also frequently called upon to appraise various items set for auction, and to distinguish actual treasures from clever forgeries.
From the opening scenes, Rush draws us to his character, inviting curiosity about Virgil’s fussy, fastidious nature, and his strange inability to look any female in the eye for more than a fleeting moment (“Virgil Oldman” is but one letter removed from “virgin old man,” you see).
A mystery begins when Virgil takes a call from Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), an heiress who invites him to inventory the entire contents of her family estate. Slowly, Virgil becomes obsessed with the reclusive Claire, and he turns to his young friend Robert (Jim Sturgess) for help in relating to the fairer sex.
Saying anything more may be revealing too much, though there is a good chance you’ll guess what’s going on before the final reveal.
Tornatore displays nice pacing early on, and some sublime camerawork throughout, but the film begins to unravel as events require too much suspension of disbelief.
The filmmaker again shows his penchant for metaphor, with odes to deception and authenticity that will be impossible to miss, and a dark psychological tone miles away from his wistfully nostalgic Oscar-winner Cinema Paradiso.
There’s nothing wistful about this film, in fact it could have used more of the winking, mischievous spirit Donald Sutherland brings to his few scenes as an art collector.
Still, Rush is (surprise) a joy to watch, and The Best Offer will keep you engaged just from waiting to see how far “out there” it’s willing to go before Tornatore regains his footing for a nicely understated postscript as the gavel finally drops.