Since the release of his iconic film 'Cinema Paradiso' (1988), the work of Italian director Guiseppe Tornatore has been anticipated with much interest, even if no subsequent film has garnered the acclaim or affection of his earlier film. His latest, 'The Best Offer', teams him with Australian Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and thrusts the audience into the world of auction houses and priceless antiques, with a bit of sexual mystery thrown in. It doesn't seem to have caused many ripples in its theatrical release, but 'The Best Offer' certainly possesses something intriguing.
Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is a supreme auctioneer, respected and demanded throughout the art world. Behind closed doors, he's also an avid collector of female portraits, satisfying an inner longing for the beauty of the female form. Oldman receives a strange request from a young woman, Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), who wishes to have her deceased father's estate valued and sold. What is odd is that Claire refuses to meet Oldman in person, sighting some strange illness as the cause. While evaluating the house, Oldman finds a series of strange gears that, with the help of Robert (Jim Sturgess), a young mechanics restorer, he hopes to reconstruct. Oldman is a quiet, cold and deeply personal man, but as his working relationship with Claire begins to cross boundaries, his life is thrown into a chaos he couldn't predict and isn't equipped to weather.
Set in an unspecified location (it looks Italian, but everyone speaks with British or continental accents) and with every frame filled with stunning architecture and artworks, 'The Best Offer' is a beautifully made film, thanks especially to Fabio Zamarion's cinematography. What Tornatore has constructed is a very subtle, slow-burning mystery, and set it in a world as intriguing as the narrative. The plot has its twists and turns, especially in relation to Claire and Oldman's relationship, and often they come as complete surprises, or at least satisfying ones. The film takes its time, often a bit too much, but it lands its narrative points expertly, and holding the film together is a tremendous central performance from Rush. He has the skill and intelligence on which to place the weight of a film, and the uncomfortable inner mechanics of Oldman are a rich piece of material for this great actor. If there's any reason to see the film, it would be for him. He is also supported by a great cast, especially Sturgess as the charming Robert, a cheeky performance from Donald Sutherland as Oldman's associate Billy Whistler, and a small but memorable moment from Kiruna Stamell as a mysterious dwarf in a local bar with a preposterous memory. Only Hoeks seems to falter significantly. She's gorgeous, but her performance is a little forced and stilted, and suffers from that terrible trend in Italian/French film of thinking that it's okay to put a beautiful woman in a film even if she can't act, because she's beautiful. It's not too distracting, but against Rush, it's painfully obvious.
If there's any reason to see the film, it would be for Geoffrey Rush.
'The Best Offer' is not a film driven by any sense of adrenaline, but it is one that tumbles carefully towards a wicked climax. You might be able to see it coming, but there's great pleasure in the reveal and the build-up is wonderfully sickening in its anticipation. At its best, it's a tremendously fascinating film, a curious little pseudo-sexual thriller that calls into question many of the great enigmas of art and its place. The film is also a great demonstration of the skills of both Geoffrey Rush and Guiseppe Tornatore, exceptional artists in their respective fields. It overstays its welcome a little too long, and the coda is a tad muddy, but this doesn't detract from what is a rather marvellous little film.
PICTURE & SOUND
No criticism of Transmission's Blu-ray release here. The film is afforded a gorgeous 1080p 2.35:1 transfer that really shows off the detail and texture of the production design, and the careful artistry of the cinematography. It also gives us all the minute details of Rush's often subtle performance. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is also excellent, and especially shows off Ennio Morricone's sumptuous score. All round an excellent presentation for a film so carefully constructed.
The only feature in this set is 'Creating The Best Offer', a half-hour collection of edited interviews with Rush, Sturgess, Hoeks and Tornatore. Edited together with behind-the-scenes material, it offers a surprisingly thorough overview of the production, from casting to post-production. It's one of those wonderful little features that doesn't muck around but quickly and effectively offers information about the film that's genuinely interesting.