Final Portrait is an odd little movie: a dip into the life of renowned Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti that doesn’t really have much to say but still manages to hold our attention.
This isn’t a biopic so much as it is a quick sketch. Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, the movie details a couple hours in 1964 that turn into a couple weeks, when Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) the perfectionist tries painting his American friend, the author James Lord (Armie Hammer), and finds the task more difficult than he first imagined... or at least more difficult than he first let on.
In terms of drama, there’s not a whole lot going on here. Giacometti tries to paint Lord. He becomes frustrated. He procrastinates. He starts over. Lord becomes frustrated. He changes his flight home for the umpteenth time. They get nowhere.
And hours turn into days, days turn into weeks.
Though it’s somewhat by design, this isn’t the most engaging narrative. That’s not to say it’s boring, per se, but Final Portrait won’t exactly leave you hanging on the edge of your seat. Tucci’s focus is on the characters. As such, the interplay between Giacometti and Lord is paramount, and Rush and Hammer do enough here to keep this thing afloat, while Tucci leverages camerawork to make a mini-statement on art and vision.
Tucci really leans into Giacometti’s angst, but he takes a lighthearted angle that makes for more of a comedy than a deep exploration of creative brilliance. Rush is crucial here, playing the artist with just enough madness to relate his genius and enough charm for us to look past his many imperfections (though Giacometti’s infidelity is a bit too glamorized). The actor is perennially trustworthy, so it’s no surprise he knocks what he can out of the park. It’s just a bit of a shame the narrative doesn’t really allow him to reach either highs or lows.
Hammer’s take on James Lord counterbalances Rush’s mania nicely. His comedic chops are present, though far more subtle. While Hammer plays the straight man, more or less, he’s not without his own solid one-liners, and the two ultimately form a winsome pair. It would be hard to see this picture succeeding at all without such strong performances from these two actors.
Ultimately, those unfamiliar with Giacometti or his work may not find Final Portrait to be the most moving theatrical experience. Intent is key in these small indie flicks, and it’s clear this is a passion project for Tucci. But for the casual viewer, we don’t dive deep enough. Nothing is really illuminated; no points are driven home. And while cursory research outside the film reveals that this painting would sell for $20 million in 2015, the movie itself gives us very little context as to what makes this particular moment in time interesting.
To be clear, Final Portrait is not without merit. It’s just that it’s built to be a vignette rather than a profound experience. The movie serves as a perfectly fine character study, but it will also leave most people unsatisfied. That said, Giacometti fans and people who think Picasso was a hack will probably have a delightful time.
Director: Stanley Tucci
Starring: Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, James Faulkner
Theater: Now open, Edina Cinema