Deception | Film review - Geoffrey Rush shines in seductive fable of fakes and forgeries in art and life

Deception - Geoffrey Rush as Virgil Oldman
(Image credit: stefano schirato)
(Image credit: stefano schirato)

Geoffrey Rush is on superb form as the repressed protagonist of Deception (opens in new tab) (also known as The Best Offer), a teasing romantic mystery from Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore.

His art auctioneer Virgil Oldman is a finicky, phobic man who prefers the company of paintings to people and keeps the world at arm’s length - until he is drawn into an intrigue involving an agoraphobic young heiress (Sylvia Hoek) whose decaying villa is stuffed temptingly full of antique treasures.

Deception - Donald Sutherland as Billy Whistler

(Image credit: stefano schirato)

Virgil has no scruples about resorting to sharp practice when it comes to getting his hands on art - as we see from his dealings with wily auction-room sidekick Billy Whistler (a twinkling, whiskery Donald Sutherland) - but when the reclusive Claire Ibbetson invites him to appraise her family’s works of art he finds unfamiliar emotions beginning to disturb his usual self-possession.

Claire fails to turn up for their initial meetings at the villa, but his exasperation turns to fascination after the unseen young woman, concealing herself behind a magnificent trompe l’oeil wall, persuades him to continue with the project.

Becoming more and more enthralled by Claire, he turns to young mechanical whiz Robert (Jim Sturgess), seemingly his solitary friend, for advice on how to woo her. And Robert is also helping him fulfil a second passion, to reconstruct a priceless automaton whose disassembled parts he has uncovered in the villa. But what really is going on?


(Image credit: stefano schirato)

Tornatore keeps us off balance by not revealing where this intrigue is taking place - the film’s unnamed European setting is a composite of more than half a dozen different cities, including Trieste, Bolzano, Fidenza, Rome, Milan and Vienna.

He lays on the symbolism about the nature of fakes and forgeries in art and life a bit thickly, and the film’s mix of accents offers a distinct whiff of Europudding. You will probably even see some of the twists coming. Yet the film is still terrifically compelling. Rush keeps us swinging between repulsion and sympathy for his prickly character, and the production design - which includes stunning recreations of the old master paintings that Virgil hoards in a secret room - is a marvel.


Certificate 15. Runtime 125 mins. Director Giuseppe Tornatore.

Released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital on Monday 21st July by Signature Entertainment.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.