Set in the elegant world of high-end art and antique dealers, Giuseppe Tornatore’s The Best Offer is a romantic thriller that plays out like a cross between Hugo and Vertigo, with a bit of Her thrown in.
Rush plays art auctioneer Virgil Oldman, renowned for his appraisal skills and ability to spot forgeries. He leads a deliberately structured life. He’s a high-end art auctioneer with an acid tongue, a sharp eye for a diamond in the rough. He can quickly tell if a nondescript slab of wood has a Renaissance painting hidden beneath it, or if a random piece of metal discarded in a corner might have belonged, once upon a time, to some wondrous (and valuable) automaton.
But Oldman also engages in his own deception. With the help of an old friend and partner in crime Billy (Donald Sutherland), he routinely scams the auction houses by having Billy bid on works he has deliberately undervalued, to procure the most obscure and valuable paintings for his private collection. He pays Billy a fee and takes home the masterpieces — all portraits of women — which he hangs in a secret room and savors with intense if solitary pleasure.
Virgil is hired to look at the contents of a creepy mansion, evaluate and auction off her estate full of priceless furniture and paintings and arcana. . Its sole occupant, Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks), a beautiful, mysterious and agoraphobic heiress who refuses to go outside or let anyone see her. Seeming to communicate only via phone and through walls, she hires Oldman to evaluate and auction off her estate full of priceless furniture and paintings and arcana. Ever vigilant for opportunities to add to his collection, Virgil accepts, though he’s irritated by her eccentric manner.
As he catalogs Claire’s estate, Oldman stashes away more bits and pieces of gears he finds, taking them to his repairman pal Robert (Jim Sturgess) to put together. As time goes by, the chandeliers and furniture and paintings are sorted and catalogued, but the elusive young woman keeps coming up with reasons she can’t meet him in person. At first, Virgil is annoyed. But as any lonely man might do in his position, he begins to grow obsessed with her.
The film creates an appealingly uncompromising protagonist and a lush sense of suspense straight out of a 1940s film like “Suspicion” or “Rebecca.”Claire’s mysterious condition, and the particulars of Virgil’s growing bond with her, carry shades of Vertigo-style obsession and even a bit of Spike Jonze’s Her in the length of time she spends as a disembodied voice. Complicating matters are a playboy mechanic (Jim Sturgess) and a 19th-century automaton straight out of Hugo. Shot all over northern Italy, Vienna and Prague, the film’s precise setting is deliberately left a blank.
Working entirely in English for the first time in his long career, screenwriter/director Tornatore is best known for his nostalgic Cinema Paradiso, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1990. But The Best Offer is completely different in style and tone.
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland.
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore.
Screenwriter: Giuseppe Tornatore.
Producers: Isabella Cocuzza, Arturo Paglia.