THE BEST OFFER, the latest effort from Academy Award winning director Giuseppe ‘Cinema Paradiso’ Tornatore, feels like a lost work of Alfred Hitchcock. With deft control, Tornatore weaves an impressionist tapestry of isolation, greed and mystery that has instantly skyrocketed into my top ten of 2013 so far.
When renowned art curator and auctioneer Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is offered to catalogue the remaining treasures of Claire Ibbotson’s (Sylvia Hoeks) family he stumbles upon his employers secret affliction — agoraphobia. When the pursuit of the priceless gets tangled in the allure of curiosity, Virgil’s life is irrevocably changed.
Geoffrey Rush is perfectly coiled as Oldman’s reputation would have him portrayed. As the film progresses you watch the man unravel. During the opening of the film there’s a surgeon like regimentation of routine. With almost ‘wind-up’ walking to his usual single restaurant table, blank faced expectation for seamless silver service and perennially gloved hands; Rush builds a character on the outskirts of high society. However, as he’s enraptured by the enigmatic Claire, the metaphysical and literal apparel layers begin to shed away. Whether it is slight adjustments in posture, gate, even in how he holds his face, Rush’s physical awareness of how he’s constructed and deconstructing Oldman is a marvel to behold.
Virgil’s accomplice in some shady auctioneering is Billy Whistler, played by the great Donald Sutherland. He’s a rare acting talent that equally conveys friendly warmth and an ominous cold — resulting in a hypnotic draw as he’s on screen. Robert the mechanical engineer, played by Jim Sturgess, is Virgil confidant. Sturgess is establishing himself as chameleon character actor with leading man looks. His diversity and subtle complexity has truly been on show this year with THE BEST OFFER and CLOUD ATLAS. Sylvia Hoeks’ Claire is fashioned in your mind long before you lay eyes upon her. Her dulcet tones are the carrot dangling before Virgil, and when you see her, that assured voice must give way to raw fragility and vulnerability. Hoeks and Tornatore craft her character on a knife’s edge as an object of desire, a delicate flower needing protection in the outside world and a fiery, demanding bull when she’s disembodied.
Tornatore hooks you with primal voyeuristic impulses. The audience, like Virgil, are drawn to Claire’s mystery and desperate to break down the false facade. As he gets closer, and the proximity of her voice is no longer on the phone, but feels near you; or as you see Virgil glance through to see an eye through a key hole, you’ll find yourself being coiled like a spring. It’s a cinematic manipulation, in the most insatiable way. Tornatore’s script too gives each of the characters disparate motivational elements that ultimately complement the entire unfurling narrative. And while it’s precise, it’s defiantly uncertain.
Great films, have great scores and the awesome power of Ennio Morricone’s musical accompanyiment compliments and interjects with events of THE BEST OFFER so perfectly that it feels like a character in the film.
THE BEST OFFER left me reeling; it’s a cinematic palimpsest in the vein of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO. Perfectly crafted performances, inescapable choral echoes of Morricone’s wondrous score, the perfect forgery awaits, and begs to be revisited again and again.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, Dermot Crowley
Scored by: Ennio Morricone