There are some films that just pass by without making much of an impact. It isn’t for the lack of important individuals being involved, or that the film is low-budget or obscure. It is just a matter of story – often smaller films are not noticed simply because they don’t boast a story that can be sold very easily, and they rely on word-of-mouth and opinions from a select few that actually do watch the film and give it a fair chance. One such film is the internationally-produced drama, The Best Offer, a film that resides in relative obscurity, despite several factors that would make it quite a popular film had it been given the proper publicity.
The Best Offer is a drama set in the wildly exciting and seductive world of European auction houses. It centers on one man, Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), a crotchety and eccentric art dealer who fills the void in his life with paintings of women garnered through sketchy means, with the help of his friend, Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland). It is only when he receives a call from the reclusive heiress Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) that Oldman discovers himself drifting into a world of intrigue and deception, where Claire refuses to be seen, and her reclusiveness only forces Oldman to consider that he may be able to love a woman more than he loves art. The film traces their growing relationship, all set within the backdrop of European high society.
Trust me when I say that despite sounding somewhat dour, The Best Offer is far from a dull film. It may be void of adrenaline-rushed sequences or massively appealing moments of crowd-pleasing excitement, but in its own small way, The Best Offer manages to be an outright delightful mystery film that plays with the ideas of deception and seduction beautifully, creating a film that uses its somewhat bourgeois setting to tell an intriguing tale of what can possibly happen when a man who thinks he knows it all is thrown into a situation that he didn’t expect, where everything he seems to believe about himself and the people around him is shown to be false, and he begins to question his own sanity and place in this radically changing, and very bizarre world. When you get down to it, despite being focused on a niche and somewhat uptight subject, The Best Offer is an exhilarating, exciting and fascinating film.
There are some actors that are flawlessly able to navigate between being a leading star or a supporting player. There are few actors working today that are as reliable and consistently great as Geoffrey Rush. I have admired Rush for an extraordinarily long time now, and I think he is a commanding screen presence and someone who is constantly giving strong performances. It only serves to reason that Rush would be the primary reason why I jumped at the opportunity to watch The Best Offer – to see him in such a fascinating film, focused on a world that isn’t often explored quite like this in cinema, was something I was interested in seeing. Needless to say, Rush delivered. His performance as Virgil was wonderful – gloriously nasty and bitter, it is through Rush’s committed performance that we manage to see him slowly thaw out and become human. It may not be Rush’s most magnificent work, but it is still a performance that shows Rush as the epitome of class and dignity, giving an otherwise vitriolic character true charisma and forcing the audience to care about him when a lesser actor may not have been as successful.
In terms of the rest of the cast, Rush towers over them, but not in such a way that he detracts from their performances. Sylvia Hoeks is stunningly fascinating as the mysterious Claire, who exists as simply a voice for the first act of this film, and despite being somewhat spectral for a great deal of this film (including in the film’s heart-stopping final act), Hoeks lingers as an influence on Rush’s character – and her physical performance, while still impressive, is only bolstered by this film’s preoccupation with showing her as a complex aspect of the story rather than simply as a character – in essence, the thought of Claire is more important than her actual presence. Jim Sturgess has a smaller but essential role as a young man who Rush visits looking for assistance on the construction of a particular object that is of interest and becomes a motif for the panoply of themes in this film. Donald Sutherland is always a welcome presence in any film and having a small role as a close friend and associate of our protagonist, and if it feels like Sutherland is wasted, wait until the end, when the audience finally sees the purpose of his character. I was reminded of Sutherland’s involvement in another Europe-set thriller, the exquisite Don’t Look Now, which may or may not have been an influence on this film – I don’t have any justification for this statement, other than both films being wonderful mysteries set in beautiful European locations.
Although having said that, I am reminded of another aspect of this film that strikes me as somewhat similar to Don’t Look Now – for almost the entire film, this film is a straightforward romantic mystery film, but it culminates in a twist that is absolutely shocking and felt strangely similar to the elliptical twist in the aforementioned film. I wasn’t expecting a film like The Best Offer to have such a twist – and I will not spoil it (because this is a film I implore everyone to see) – but like any classic mystery film, there are clues scattered throughout this film. I was feeling somewhat unenthusiastic about The Best Offer – for much of it, it is a serviceable and solid drama with dashes of romance, but the final act of this film convinced me that this was a far better film than I thought. The final act of The Best Offer is so tonally different than the rest of the film, it actually threatens to be a weakness. The Best Offer is actually worth it for the final sequences, which are so extraordinarily abstract, I am surprised it didn’t get noticed more. It is an unconventional film, and originality should never go unnoticed.
I was struck by the beauty of this film – setting in Europe would always be risky, because many films set in Europe often neglect to showcase the beauty of the continent. Luckily for the audience, The Best Offer was made by Giuseppe Tornatore, a filmmaker who understands the true and unequivocal beauty of Europe. Tornatore’s talents were not wasted here – and The Best Offer serves to be a love-letter to European cinema in some small way. I found similarities between The Best Offer and another film from the same year, The Great Beauty – both serving as homages to the work of Federico Fellini. Perhaps The Great Beauty succeeds more in this regard, but The Best Offer is not something to scoff at either. The combination of a man in a crisis trying to find meaning to his life bears a remarkable similarity to what made some of Fellini’s films absolute masterpieces. I wouldn’t call The Best Offer a masterpiece (it is a wonderful film, however), but it does serve to be a beautiful homage to similar films, and as Tornatore has proven with his masterpiece Cinema Paradiso, he is not averse to paying tribute to those who have come before him. There are several moments in this film that showed Tornatore’s cinematic prowess – the seductively beautiful moment where Claire is first revealed to us, the first physical encounter between the two main characters or one particularly beautiful moment where Virgil searches for Claire, running into a room while the camera dollies forward towards a window overlooking a chapel, as if to track Virgil’s movements, only to have Virgil enter into the shot that is supposed to appear to be his own perspective. There are several moments that are difficult to explain, but take an otherwise
There are several moments in this film that showed Tornatore’s cinematic prowess – the seductively beautiful moment where Claire is first revealed to us, the first physical encounter between the two main characters or one particularly beautiful moment where Virgil searches for Claire, running into a room while the camera dollies forward towards a window overlooking a chapel, as if to track Virgil’s movements, only to have Virgil enter into the shot that is supposed to appear to be his own perspective. There are several moments that are difficult to explain, but take a beautiful film into unexpected territory. This may not be a massively experimental or innovative film, but it is one that pays close attention to composing some wonderfully beautiful moments.
The Best Offer is a fascinating film. It is complex and beautifully made, and is anchored by a strong performance by the ever-reliable Geoffrey Rush. It is a carefully-paced film made with remarkable skill and precision. It seems to be far too neglected, and while it isn’t completely underseen, I do think it is one of the more unconventional films of its kind in existence, and while it may have several weak points and countless small flaws, it was an exhilarating, beautifully composed film that tackles otherwise dull and austere subject matter in a manner that surprisingly kept me on the edge of my seat. This film is worth it for Rush’s performance and a story that serves to be far more interesting and captivating than what one would expect.