In writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore's The Best Offer, an uptight art collector and auctioneer named Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) follows a windy path of unintended self-destruction. He's a lonely man who has devoted his entire life to the beauty of art at the expense of real friendship, and his downfall begins when he receives a phone call from a mysterious stranger with a sultry voice who requests evaluation of her estate. Played by Sylvia Hoeks, Claire is a reclusive heiress, and it takes some deception on Oldman's part to catch even a glimpse of her. The events that follow, including a May-December romance between Claire and Oldman, are laced with seduction and mystery. "Human emotions are like works of art," says Oldman's shady accomplice (Donald Sutherland). "They can be forged." But while Oldman is a professional at sniffing out fake works of art, he's not so skilled when it comes to appraising people's motives. The film is visually lavish, set mostly in a neglected mansion filled with  paintings and sculptures by old masters. Grounded by emotionally convincing performances, The Best Offer is a compelling mystery brimming with clues that simultaneously perplex and enlighten.

Critic's Grade: B+

SEE IT: The Best Offer is rated R. It opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.