'Best Offer'

A scene from "Best Offer." (Handout)

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.

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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.

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"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