The very things that make The Best Offer such a sublime delight are also the same things that would cripple its narrative if closely scrutinised. This Hitchcock homage, written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso fame), is a creepy, weird, captivating, endearingly awkward concoction, a precious thing of gimmicky preposterousness that one can imagine Brian De Palma going to town with. The plot somehow strings together a snooty germaphobe art-thief/auctioneer (Geoffrey Rush), a relationship-advising mechanical whiz (Jim Sturgess), an 18th century automaton, an agoraphobic mystery woman (Sylvia Hoeks) and an autistic dwarf into a complex design that’s best experienced with as little knowledge as possible.
Granted, The Best Offer does have its goofy and clumsy bits that require some adjusting to. Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Virgil Oldman is overplayed enough to feel like it’s taken from a completely different movie. Tornatore’s writing often fails him, creating dialogue that sounds tin-eared, too on-the-nose. And I didn’t, for a second, buy that Hoeks would develop an attraction to the ageing Oldman. But despite all this, and its excessively flabby runtime, The Best Offer is consistently absorbing, and eventually transcends the sum of its parts to emerge an unusual, tragic character piece about an emotionally stunted man who’s only known romance through his vault of painted female portraits he’s amassed from rigging auctions. The final twist may not be surprising, nor make much sense, but it doesn’t underwhelm because it lands with a deeply emotional thud of twisted inevitability that rings true for the film’s protagonist.