January 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Best Offer's' wrong turn undercuts some splendid weirdness

'Best Offer' stars Jim Sturgess, left, and Giuseppe Tornatore in a tale of alienation and obsession. (Warner Bros.)

“The Best Offer” is such a classic piece of cinema — it could have been made 60, 50 or 30 years ago — that it’s a bit unsettling. Where are the superheroes, the special effects, the pop-culture references?

Missing, thankfully. Instead writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso,” “Malena”) offers a decidedly old-fashioned if pointedly odd story of obsession, delusion and alienation. If in the end it’s actually less than it appears to be, well, that fits with its themes.

Geoffrey Rush stars as Virgil Oldman, the imperious head of a high-end auction house, able to wrangle multiple-millions in bids on paintings with flair. He’s so cut off from the common man that he always wears gloves, never to sully his hands.

Oldman’s an art expert who over the years has gathered dozens of portraits of women, which he keeps locked away in a vault/study hidden in his home. A longtime friend, the failed artist Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland), has helped him procure these paintings by bidding at Oldman’s own auctions.

One day Oldman gets a phone call from a woman named Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) who has inherited a large villa filled with paintings and valuables. She asks for an appraisal and, against his better instincts, Oldman agrees to look at what she has.

What he eventually discovers is that Claire lives in a room in the villa, locked away from human contact, afraid of the outside world. Speaking to her through a closed door, Oldman is at first frustrated, then sympathetic — she has, after all, just taken his aversion to human contact to the extreme.

As he surveys the many objects in the huge villa and builds a relationship with Claire, Oldman also finds assorted rusted gears and mechanical pieces scattered about. These he takes to a young friend, a repairman named Robert (Jim Sturgess), who begins to assemble them into a mechanical man. Robert also offers tips on wooing Claire(who, we discover, just happens to be stunning).

And thus love blossoms between two people who can’t stand people. Which might have been more than enough. on its own. The entire Oldman-Claire relationship has such an eerie feel to it. But eventually Tornatore heads to more conventional ground.

It’s by no means a disastrous turn, just unexpectedly expected, and it undercuts the film’s wonderfully off-balance mood. In the end, “The Best Offer” is at its best when it’s decidedly weird.

'The Best Offer'

GRADE: B-

Rated R for some sexuality and graphic nudity

Running time: 131 minutes

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