The Best Offer could be better
THE BEST OFFER (M18)
Drama/131 minutes/Opens today
Famed art auctioneer and appraiser Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is respected by the industry, but he hides a secret (with accomplice Whistler, played by Donald Sutherland). The ageing, lonely man is commissioned by secretive heiress Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) to auction her family treasures. The job is fraught with difficulty because of her many phobias, but Oldman discovers something in her family home which piques his interest and that of a friend, Robert (Jim Sturgess), a mechanical genius.
WHAT starts out as a bittersweet character study of a pompous but oddly likeable man becomes something else altogether by the end of the film.
Sadly, the transition is mishandled and the result is vague disappointment, that feeling which comes after watching a magician's sleight-of-hand trick which takes far too long, for too small a payoff.
Geoffrey Rush is the best thing here, as he usually is in productions which call for his brand of wounded, careworn nobility. He is riveting as an obnoxiously smug and prissy art appraiser juggling a few balls on the side, prone to the occasional lofty declaration ("When simulating another's work, the forger can't resist the temptation to put something of himself"), a pose which later gives way to vulnerability and warmth.
Italian writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore has fallen short of the standards he set with Malena (2000) and Cinema Paradiso (1988), the latter a much-loved film and winner of an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Perhaps because he is not working in his native language - this Italian production is set in a number of European cities and is entirely in English - the dialogue, which makes attempts at the speech patterns of the pan-European cultured elite, feels stiff.
Without the distance of subtitles, too much of what is spoken feels gratingly on-the-nose, especially when characters philosophise about authenticity and forgery.
Despite the heavy-handed foreshadowing provided by the chats, the surprise conclusion - when it happens - still feels disjointed from the rest of the film.
It does not help that the characters feel unrooted in time or place. Robert (Jim Sturgess), for example, is a mechanical genius who runs a gadget-strewn home-appliance repair shop not seen since typewriters ruled the world, but he also just happens to have a deep knowledge of 19th-century clockwork.
There is also a working-class London pub which appears to have been transplanted - lock, stock, beer barrel and Cockney customers - into Italy. Among its occupants is an autistic savant dwarf who speaks in riddles, adding a touch of David Lynch to the affair.
If only the rest of the film was as consistently weird, or as interesting.