Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Best Offer (La Migliore Offerta)

For F*** Magazine

THE BEST OFFER (LA MIGLIORE OFFERTA)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Sutherland
Genre: Romance, Mystery
Run Time: 131 mins
Opens: 3 April 2014
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene and Nudity)

The closest most of us hoi polloi will get to the thrill of an auction is outbidding some dude for second-hand electronics on eBay, so there’s an undeniable mystique and attraction to the glamourous upper-crust world of fine art and antique auctions. The Best Offer is a romantic mystery film set in that world, starring Geoffrey Rush as respected auction house owner Virgil Oldman. He’s hired by enigmatic young heiress Claire Ibbetson (Hoeks) to conduct an appraisal of the collection bequeathed to her by her late parents, and he becomes more and more preoccupied with the woman – who refuses to see him face to face - as the days go by. Adding to the mystery are odd gears and cogs scattered around Claire’s villa, which Virgil brings to gifted mechanic Robert (Sturgess) to piece together. The few who are close to Virgil, including his accomplice in acquiring a secret stash of master works, Billy Whistler (Sutherland), notice the usually immaculate man begin to fall apart, his life thrown into disarray by his obsession with Claire.

The Best Offer is a film of a most vexing sort, constantly on the brink of developing into something truly delicious yet refusing to take on a satisfying form at every turn. It is a particularly handsome movie to admire, cinematographer Fabio Zamarion casting a refined eye on various fancy European locales while the exact location in which most of the story takes place is left deliberately ambiguous. Living legend Ennio Morricone provides an expectedly seductive musical score as well. Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore, of Cinema Paradiso fame, plants the seeds of a compelling mystery, but while he wants to root The Best Offer in highbrow territory, it often veers into slight luridness. It is almost as if the film is a step away from full-blown giallo hijinks, though this certainly wasn’t Torantore’s intention.


Virgil Oldman fits the archetype of a snooty, stuffy wealthy gent who is particular about his tastes, knowledgeable about his chosen field and who eats off plates and drinks out of champagne flutes monogrammed with his initials. Of course, he’s very lonely and inexperienced in the ways of romance. This reviewer found it difficult to get invested in Virgil’s relationship with Claire, whom Hoeks portrays as a fragile, troubled damsel, the self-imprisoned princess waiting for a knight to free her. There’s an element of leery voyeurism in Virgil trying to catch a glimpse of Claire, which makes his pursuit of this much younger woman all the more unsettling (note the unsubtle surname “Oldman”). Still, Rush is a commanding presence who gamely fleshes out the foibles written for his character.



Sturgess’ role is probably analogous to that of the geeky tech expert/comic relief in a conventional blockbuster, Robert helping to piece together the mechanical doodads Virgil discovers in Claire’s home. In addition, he coaches Virgil in the art of getting the girl, the young man becoming a mentor to the older one, and Sturgess is sufficiently charming. Donald Sutherland seems to have shot his part in his off-time from the Hunger Games films, still sporting President Snow’s mane and beard. As Billy Whistler, he’s meant to serve as a less cultured counterpoint to Virgil and to highlight Virgil’s dishonesty, seeing as Billy is there to help him “save” the best pieces for himself. Sutherland is well-cast in the part, even if it’s a relatively minor one.

The film’s dialogue is often laboured and verbose, lines like “everyone has moments where they prefer solitude to the multitudes” unnatural yet oddly poetic and not entirely out of place in the film’s milieu. Tornatore’s insistence on keeping the mystery inscrutable and denying the audience closure into which they can sink their teeth may make the film “arty”, but ultimately renders it less enjoyable than it could have been. We’re also going to gingerly roll out the “p word” that’s tossed around a lot when discussing films of this type – “pretentious”. To be clear, The Best Offer isn’t an annoyingly obnoxious affair and it’s a beautifully-made picture, but by wrapping its innate pulpy thriller aspects in layers of hoity-toity self-importance, it misses out on making the winning bid.


Summary: While elegant and initially beguiling, The Best Offer is also cold, stilted and not fully-formed. This reviewer is not quite sold.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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