FROM RUSSIA AND ITALY WITHOUT LOVE: COLD COMES THE NIGHT and THE BEST OFFER


cold-comes-the-night-cranston-eve-610x343Cold Comes the Night is a movie genre that is often described as: it does absolutely nothing, but does it very well—except that in this case, it only does it fairly well.  As usual for this sort of movie, it’s a thriller and revolves around a woman who runs a sleazy motel that a local police officer uses for his pimp trade.   She has a daughter who social services is threatening to take away (which is hard to argue with), so when a mob bagman who is going blind comes through and his driver is killed by a prostitute he attacks, the mother sees a way out of her circumstances.
The movie is buoyed by a rather clever and in many ways well written screenplay by Osgood Perkins, Nick Simon and the director Tze Chun, full of nail biting twists and turns and a few unexpected surprises.  It also has a strong, empathetic performance by Alice Eve in the lead and a rather effective one in Logan Marshall-Green as the more than somewhat sociopathic cop.
Unfortunately, it also has Bryan Cranston in the roll of the bagman Topo (an unfortunate name since it makes me think of Ed Sullivan and the mouse that would show up on occasion), and this part really doesn’t work as well as it needs to.  Since Topo is not developed fully enough to become a character in his own right, he and his fading eyesight end up being nothing more than mere plot devices, which doesn’t work to the advantage of the movie as a whole. But even more unfortunate, the character is also Russian in background, and whenever Cranston speaks, well, sorry to say, all I could think was “moose and squirrel”.
346507_346475_thebestoffer5The Best Offer is also a thriller of sorts, a con game/heist film about a germ phobic and highly superstitious auctioneer who has, over the years, unethically, and probably illegally as well, collected a series of classical portraits of women at bargain basement prices in comparison to their real worth.  He then is hired to appraise and sell the contents of a mansion inhabited by an agoraphobic woman.
Though all the main actors are non-Italian and they all speak English, the film won the David di Donatello award for best picture (sort of the Italian Oscars) over such movies as Reality, though I’m not sure how.  It has its moments, and though it has all the right ingredients, it never quite comes together in a satisfactory manner.
The story is divided into three parts.  The first sets up the personality of the quirksome, to say the least, auctioneer Virgil Oldman, played rather effetely by Geoffrey Unsworth.  It also dramatizes how he pulls off his cons (which are very clever, one must give it up to him) and how he comes to accept the job offer by the agoraphobic Claire (Sylvia Hoeks).  This part is on the nose, obvious, with acting that is a bit too arch (Unsworth plays Virgil as if he were the Scarlet Pimpernel) and dialog a bit more than expositional.  At the same time, it does draw you in as you want to know exactly what the con aimed at the auctioneer is that’s surely to take place.
The second part focuses on the growing love between Virgil and Claire, with the Cupidic help of a repairman that Virgil uses in fixing antiques (Jim Sturgess).  This is a tough bit of beef jerky to get through.  First, it’s really rather difficult to have an emotional stake in whether Virgil finally finds true love and loses his virginity since he is a con man and not that pleasant a person.   But the love story itself just never catches fire.  And it takes forever for it not to.  The forward momentum just stops dead here.
But there is the third part, which is a roller coaster ride of bitter revelation and emotional devastation as Virgil finds out just what has been done to him.  Though we all saw it coming, we still feel for him, even though, in many ways, he hasn’t earned it.
The screenplay and direction are by Giuseppe Tornatore, who also gave us Cinema Paradiso.   While he does little with the first two parts, the third is a thrilling bit of editing, acting and writing.  But unfortunately, it’s a bit too little too late.
Also starring Donald Sutherland with an unsteady accent as Virgil’s partner in crime.
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