Although writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso," "Everybody's Fine") certainly puts his own stamp on the intriguing art-world thriller "The Best Offer," there's an effective dash of Hitchcock and even a soupçon of 1970s-era De Palma (remember "Obsession"?) tossed in for good measure.
Add a masterful lead performance by Geoffrey Rush as Virgil Oldman, a snobby antiques dealer and auctioneer who finds himself on the most unexpected journey of his life, and the result is a classy, atmospheric, onion-peel of a mystery.
The never-married Virgil, a fussy loner with a closetful of gloves (he's a germaphobe) and a hidden room covered in priceless paintings of beautiful women, meets his soul mate of sorts when he's hired by high-strung, deeply agoraphobic heiress Claire Ibbetson (Sylvia Hoeks) to help her sell a villa's worth of valuables left by her late parents. Claire doesn't make the assignment easy on Virgil — nor he on her — until a May-December romance blooms between them, drawing each other out in the process.
Though, of course, nothing will be quite what it seems (how can it be after a character pointedly reminds Virgil that "everything can be faked"?), the film has several smart twists and surprises up its well-tailored sleeve.
The always-welcome Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe," "Upside Down") provides jaunty support as a mechanical whiz who becomes Virgil's confidant and romantic coach. Donald Sutherland, in flowing white hair and beard, also figures in as Virgil's shady artist pal.
A lush score by legendary composer and frequent Tornatore collaborator Ennio Morricone, fine cinematography by Fabio Zamarion and Maurizio Sabatini's superb production design add immeasurably to this involving picture.
"The Best Offer"
MPAA rating: R for some sexuality and graphic nudity
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills