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The Best Offer
Reviewed by Damien Straker on August 27th, 2013
Transmission
presents a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Screenplay by Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring:
Geoffrey Rush, Sylvia Hoeks, Donald Southerland and Jim Sturgess
Running Time: 130 minutes
Rating: M
Released: August 29th, 2013


8/10

 


Geoffrey Rush's layered, dominant performance is the thematic and emotional crux of this very dense but mesmerising thriller. In one of his best performances, he plays his character Virgil Oldman with theatrical notes, making the auctioneer an impatient and callous man, who is suffering from rhypophobia. His antisocial behaviour and general disregard of other people signposts this as being a story about a man who learns to reconnect with people and to become a better person. Throughout the film Virgil does attempt to reconnect with the world by aiding an unseen woman named Claire (Sylvia Hoeks), who communicates with him through a wall as he helps her value the property of family belongings. This is a mere starting point as the rabbit hole of the narrative is far deeper.

There is a distinct European temperament to the material, courtesy of Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), whose deliberate pacing of the story provides the narrative with time and spatiality to enhance the themes and characters. The central relationship between Virgil and the mysterious Claire has a fascinating basis, not because of what it provides Virgil, but how it challenges him. Who is this woman and why is she hiding? The suspense is Hitchcock in tone because we're intrigued by what we're not seeing off camera as much as Virgil's delicate actions. This mystery is trumped by story beats that dissolve into intense peaks of voyeurism, enhanced by a Roman Polanski inspired feel for claustrophobic interiors.


Virgil is a terrific character. As an art expert he has an eye for detail that provides with him the investigative senses of a detective. Watch his intensity increase as he talks to Claire on his mobile phone, hearing the echo of noises around him and through the phone. He knows that she must be nearby. Their relationship is rich with irony, a bond drawn from an aversion to sociality and people themselves. Tornatore's handsome interior stylisations reflect the internal psychology of his lead character. Scenes are filmed with a wide angle lens, positioning Virgil as a smaller figure in the middle of large open room. This asserts his emotional distance and failure to understand people, women in particular. As he grows mentally and physically closer to Claire and the wall that hides her, the framing is purposefully tighter to assert their union of agoraphobic tendencies. Additional glimpses of his home life reveal a highly desaturated, untouched and sterilised living quarters.

Cleverly, the film's tension levels are spread outside the main story and into two subplots that enhance the complexity of the relationships and the overall plotting. Virgil has two associates with vastly different motives. The first is his friend Billy (Donald Sutherland) who schemes with him on auctions. Virgil conducts the auction, while Billy sneaks in a deliberate final bid. The other man is Robert (Jim Sturgess), who works in a workshop with mechanics parts. Robert forms an unexpected second mystery in the script. As Virgil asks him for advice on women and subsequently how he can grow closer to the Claire, Robert's inner life comes to the fore. He is continually surrounded by various women when he is meant to be in a relationship. If his advice is genuine, why is his personal life such a mess and what is the significance of the robot that he is constructing from various cranks found around Claire's family mansion?


One of the theories Robert questions about the robot is whether there was someone once manipulating it from the inside. The same can be said about Virgil because of the artificiality of his life and the manipulation that occurs between these characters. One of the key lines in the film is "there is always something authentic concealed in every forgery". Deception becomes Tornatore's concluding theme, along with physical and mental disorientation. The idea is that as Virgil loses his bearings on time and space we do too so that we experience indistinguishable emotions about the real and fake. On top of this is a midget character with a photographic memory and a fast tracked timeline, which makes for a confusing, mind-bending last quarter. I am still not entirely surely what happened but films that let you guess the ending by the second act are stale and boring. This will provoke discussion, not only because it's strange and ambiguous but because of the complexity of the writing and the various layers of the inspired central performance.






 
 



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