In keeping with its protagonist, The Best Offer is a sumptuous, classy film, rich with detail and texture. From the precision of his auctions down to the perfect arrangement of the meals he eats, Virgil lives a life within parameters he can control, and has fine-tuned his skills within those parameters. In the very first scene, he spots what looks like a chunk of wood on the ground of a basement, and with one sniff he correctly identifies it as a painting, dating back to the 18th century. Once Claire has hired him, he walks through the mansion she's inherited, with rooms filled with art from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, and one senses the gears turning in his head with every glance. In the basement, he spots a strange device made out of gears and picks it up, not because of what it is, but that the rust on the piece is forming on the wrong side.
Claire, however, throws Virgil's life out of balance. Virgil is so surrounded by his own protection that even in his empty home, which has never had visitors beyond a housewarming party, he secludes himself in a special chamber where he stores all the paintings that Billy helps him buy (a secret door resides behind a closet full of Virgil's gloves, which is a nice touch). Yet, when he sees the same pattern of isolation in Claire, he can't resist the urge to break her of that habit, to lure her out of her house. At first, it's simply the mystery of working for a client he's never seen, but eventually the need to know her transforms into real affection. Rush is exquisite, playing scenes with a childlike curiosity that helps the movie along even when his character occasionally acts irrationally, blowing up in ways that feel more suited to Claire than himself. As Virgil's confidence grows, Rush's emotional palette expands too, and his warmth and liveliness are palpable.
Tornatore is very careful in the development of a relationship between Virgil and Claire, and is more than willing to let his characters fight to make a connection. Whether they will escalate their relationship from a friendship to a romance is not certain; all that matters is that she represents someone who genuinely piques his interest, and he's willing to let her in. Other than Billy, Virgil only has one friend in Robert (Jim Sturgess), a young mechanic who helps restore some of the items that Virgil brings by. In this case, Virgil brings the gears that he finds on the floor of Claire's basement, and the two set about re-assembling the pieces into something potentially priceless. As Virgil eases into the waters of personal relationships for the first time in ages (who knows when he befriended Billy), Robert coaches him on how to speak to other people, particularly women.
Without giving too much away -- something that would be very easy to do in the case of The Best Offer -- the film pulls its characters and storylines together, despite their seeming differences. The more the film builds toward a conclusion, the stranger it seems, which makes it all the more underwhelming when the ultimate story Tornatore is building to turns out to be so conventional. Tornatore also glosses over some of the story's fringe quirks, including the question of whether or not Virgil and Robert assembling the gears is the kind of secret that Virgil should feel more morally ambivalent about with regards to Claire's trust (an error that has to do with the author knowing more about the story's outcome than the characters involved in it). Much like Virgil himself, The Best Offer is a refined and mysterious movie. It's just a shame that like so many mysteries, the question is more intriguing than the answer.
The Video and Audio
Sound is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which offers a bit more refined classiness than the picture. Ennio Morricone's wonderful score sounds very nice in this elegant mix, alongside the atmosphere of the various high-class locations the film takes place in. The film is reserved, without much action, but some more specific and detailed sounds come in the form of gears and barely-perceptible sound of fingers feeling the texture of centuries-old paint. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.