Deception is an unoriginal title for an unusual film that came out not so long ago. Its alternative title -not brilliant, either, to be honest - is The Best Offer. But you can't judge a film by the quality of its title. This is a really interesting movie, with a great cast led by an actor I admire very much, the very versatile Geoffrey Rush.
Rush plays Virgil Oldman, an auctioneer and expert in the fine arts who is a strange, and very repressed, character. It is a tribute to Rush's excellence that we stay interested in the character without ever learning enough of his backstory, to a point, towards the end of the film, where sympathy is very much with him. Virgil is very, very rich, and has a secret room full of valuable paintings of women, but he also has at least one secret. He has an unscrupulous side, and is involved in dodgy auction deals with Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland, at his breeziest) who is an art forger.
Virgil is contacted by a mysterious young woman, Claire Ibbetson, who wants him to value the rare treasures in her parents' villa. The caretake (Philip Jackson, yes, Inspector Japp himself!) has never laid eyes on her, and she continues to avoid a face to face encounter with Virgil. He becomes fascinated, and deduces that she suffers from agorophobia, and is hiding in her own secret room in the villa. It takes him a long time to catch a glimpse of Claire (played by Sylvia Hoeks) but when he does, he finds that the wait was definitely worth while.
Virgil finds strange items in the villa which his young pal Robert (Jim Sturgess) tells him are parts of a priceless old automaton. Bit by bit, Robert pieces the mechanical marvel together, while giving Virgil advice on his romantic pursuit of the mysterious but gorgeous Claire. This is not a fast-paced film, but it is visually striking and brilliantly enhanced by the soundtrack, written by the great Ennio Morricone, one of the finest of all film composers. The strange atmosphere of the story also derives in part from the fact that it's by no means clear where it is set. Italy, perhaps? There are conflicting clues.
Despite that lack of pace, I found this film gripping, even though, considered in the cold light of day, the plot does not really hang together. But the splendid acting, music and visuals make it very watchable. Even though I do wish they'd come up with a title with more resonance.