Movie review: ‘The Best Offer’ shows the art of melodrama

THE SEATTLE TIMESFebruary 28, 2014 

  • THE BEST OFFER •• 1/2•

    Rated: R for some sexuality and graphic nudity. Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland. Director: Giuseppe Tornatore. Running time: 131 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

An uneven but weirdly mesmerizing drama/thriller, Giuseppe Tornatore’s “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 women’s faces, whose smooth cheeks he occasionally strokes. Out in the world, he’s all precision and guardedness. “You’re 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 Virgil’s 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 Virgil’s colleagues to the man who runs the espresso shop speaks perfect, unaccented English.) Virgil visits her crumbling, exquisite villa in the city, but doesn’t see her; “Miss Claire suffers from a very strange illness,” he’s 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 won’t even get into what on earth Donald Sutherland is doing here.

So why does this movie work? Perhaps it’s that house, full of passageways and soaring arches and whispered secrets you can almost hear. Perhaps it’s the idea of art as solace for a lonely soul, however troubled. Perhaps it’s the way Rush finds a humanity in his character, and how by the end he’s suddenly and sadly very old.

Perhaps it’s the line, spoken near the end, that “there is always something authentic concealed in every forgery” — there’s something authentic here, lurking in the melodrama, pulling us in.

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