With so many would be subversive thrillers abandoning all sense towards their climax, instead opting for asinine twists that obliterate any goodwill built up from earlier acts, The Best Offer represents a rare instance where a bit of insanity would have been welcome. As it stands, this arthouse effort is an overlong, hollow lark that takes us on a journey with its damaged characters before resolving precisely as expected and with no resonant emotional element to help elevate it above the blandness.
There is much to be said of a film that takes time with its characters, and in that respect The Best Offer is laudable. However, what an effort such as this must do with even more care is ultimately reward us for our diligence and investment. Conclusively, if the journey ends up in unfulfilling places then we’ve more of less just peaked in on the day to day activities of a bunch of strangers (as far from the dull reality of our actual lives as it all may be).
It’s quite clear as the final scenes roll around that we’re meant to be wrenched at what we’re witnessing – thrown for an emotional loop that we’re not meant to shake as a waterfall of revelations, clashing metaphors and completeness washes over us. And while I certainly didn’t fell cheated or unclean after meeting with these epiphanic cinematic elements, I felt a type of frustrating apathy not usually associated with films of this ilk.
Winding and revelation heavy films which lay out every single stage of the plot (usually via a montage heavy flashback) are as tiresome a gimmick as they come, but what The Best Offer made clear is how important at least an iota of closure can be. In essentially leaving us in as empty and baffling a place as our main character, we are left asking questions that are simultaneously integral to fleshing out the emotional components at play, and utterly moot at that juncture – what has happened has happened, there is no going back (and sometimes reality is more like that then we’d care to admit). But for a cinematic effort with loose ends to tie, for a film unremarkable in the places it ventures, and one that constructed itself as a cinematic diversion, the approach demanded closure.
Ruining what little mystery The Best Offer possesses is far too easy a feat, and as such to discuss its most glaring shortcomings would be to, as they say, spoil the ending. Thusly, aside from simply stating the aforementioned exasperating nature of the climax, I will move onto other matters such the acting, led by the regal and compelling Geoffrey Rush. He stars as prestigious art dealer and auctioneer Virgil Oldman, who receives an anonymous call from a young woman (Sylvia Hoeks) wishing him to inventory and sell some of her parent’s possessions. As it soon becomes apparent, she is a severe introvert, refusing to leave the confines of her room. But the mystery behind her (and a mysterious renaissance era automaton) proves more than he can bear to leave un-investigated.
Rush, as always, lends a taut level of gravitas to The Best Offer, slipping when only the material demands he do so. His worst moments come when the scene calls for dramatic overacting, or a quick reversal of emotions that would make a bipolar embarrassed. Otherwise, his years of experience serve the film very well, and his chemistry with Hoeks (when not being undermined by the scripts melodramatic tendencies) is strong and involving. Supporting the two is the always calming presence of Jim Sturgess as a handy electronics repair man who aids in Oldman’s quest to reconstruct the aforementioned automaton as he finds the pieces scattered across the heiress’ estate. There’s also Donald Sutherland as a business partner (of sorts) to our lead.
It’s on the depressing side actually that in spite of the fine acting, well polished aesthetic style and plethora of interesting questions that The Best Offer possesses, it all amounts – when distilled down to its essence – to little more than a few memorable scenes and plenty of slow build-up, on a road to very little satisfaction. If the complex automaton at the story’s center had come to life and starting killing people I would have at least had something outlandish and memorable to chat about. Alas, the best offer this film provides amounts to a losing bid.
The clues and themes laid out early on in The Best Offer, which evolve into heavy handedness in their own right, also lay unencumbered paths for obvious twists to come in this limp arthouse thriller.