An uneven but weirdly mesmerizing drama/thriller, Giuseppe Tornatores The Best Offer offers an acting showcase to Geoffrey Rush. As Virgil Oldman (whose name, like many things in this movie, is a bit on-the-nose), a reclusive antiques dealer and auctioneer, his face is as still as an oil painting; he shows no emotion and engages with no one. At home, he sits staring at the walls of art he keeps in a secret inner room all images of womens faces, whose smooth cheeks he occasionally strokes. Out in the world, hes all precision and guardedness. Youre very good at talking without actually saying anything, observes an acquaintance.
Soon, this intriguing character is swept up in the kind of plot that only good actors can sell: A woman contacts Virgils office, wanting him to assess some family works of art. (The film, shot mostly in Italy, takes place in an unidentified European city in which, mysteriously, everyone from Virgils colleagues to the man who runs the espresso shop speaks perfect, unaccented English.) Virgil visits her crumbling, exquisite villa in the city, but doesnt see her; Miss Claire suffers from a very strange illness, hes told. She turns out to be a startlingly lovely agoraphobic (played by Sylvia Hoeks, herself a work of art), and promptly Virgil falls in love with this oddball Miss Havisham, whose sculpted cheeks are even smoother than those of his paintings. More oddness unfolds, vaguely Hitchcockian in feeling, but closer to melodrama, as rain pours down in torrents and the Ennio Morricone score soars. And I wont even get into what on earth Donald Sutherland is doing here.
So why does this movie work? Perhaps its that house, full of passageways and soaring arches and whispered secrets you can almost hear. Perhaps its the idea of art as solace for a lonely soul, however troubled. Perhaps its the way Rush finds a humanity in his character, and how by the end hes suddenly and sadly very old.
Perhaps its the line, spoken near the end, that there is always something authentic concealed in every forgery theres something authentic here, lurking in the melodrama, pulling us in.