Updated: Feb 6, 2020
In 1964, writer James Lord was asked by his friend, painter Alberto Giacometti, to take an afternoon to pose for a portrait. Final Portrait is a drama that looks at the three weeks it took before Giacometti was finished with him.
The film considers an artist through the eyes of his subject. While Lord (played by the sadly underutilized Armie Hammer) is pretty dull, Geoffrey Rush’s Giacometti is the complete opposite. Although he verges on stereotypically eccentric at times, it is fun to watch him get frustrated in a way that thoroughly flummoxes the patient American. He stalks around his workspace, constantly annoyed with himself, never pleased with his art. Visitors might like what they see, but it is impossible for Giacometti to satisfyingly replicate the images in his head.
The tone that screenwriter/director Stanley Tucci (adapting James Lord’s 1965 memoir “A Giacometti Portrait”) chose for this story is one of minor amusement. Giacometti can absolutely be exasperating, so the movie has a very slight comic air about it as it observes him angrily ordering people around and criticizing his own efforts. Tucci certainly seems to excuse some of Giacometti’s worst behavior as the peculiarities of an artistic genius. Those closest to him tend to as well. His two biggest enablers are his brother, Diego, and his wife, Annette. They accept the way he operates and just let him go. This leads to more humor than expected. Watching a portrait being painted sounds boring, but Tucci maintains a reasonable pace and does not overstay his welcome (the film is only 84 minutes, minus the end credits).
Geoffrey Rush is quite enjoyable as he works his way through Giacometti’s extreme moods and blunt dialogue. Every other performance is playing off of his. Tony Shalhoub is good as the supportive and protective brother. He appears to understand far more than he says. Sylvie Testud adds emotion as the quietly discouraged Annette. Much of what we learn about Giacometti’s lifestyle is conveyed using her expressions. Clémence Poésy brings needed energy as Giacometti’s prostitute/mistress. Unfortunately, she is not given enough to do.
Then there is Lord, the audience’s representative in the story. Armie Hammer brilliantly portrayed an outsider trying to figure out a family’s rhythms in last year’s amazing Call Me by Your Name. Final Portrait lacks the depth, nuance or ambition of that film. Hammer’s character here merely watches as the days tick by and attempts to comprehend his host’s confusing conduct. He has a likable presence, but does not have the opportunity to do much with his role.
Tucci has definitely made this Rush’s show. The star does everything possible to make it successful. As a character study, it works. As an examination of an artist, however, it largely fails. There is little insight into why Giacometti behaves the way he does or why the people surrounding him allow it. As a snapshot of his life, it is better, though very thin.It is hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend Final Portrait, but if you like seeing the creative process in action, this is a decent look at a man trapped inside his own method.
3¼ out of 5
Geoffrey Rush as Alberto Giacometti
Armie Hammer as James Lord
Tony Shalhoub as Diego Giacometti
Sylvie Testud as Annette Arm
Clémence Poésy as Caroline
Screenplay and Directed by Stanley Tucci