Main Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer
Director: Stanley Tucci
I would be lying if I said something other than Armie Hammer’s magical voice compelled me to see Final Portrait. I’m pretty convinced that baritone is made up of pure liquid silk, serotonin, and essence of chocolate chip cookie. I don’t know how else to explain how hypnotic it is – and how effective it was in Call Me By Your Name. But I would never recommend a movie based only on an actor’s voice, and thankfully I don’t have to. Final Portrait is a really interesting character study based on the real friendship of two very different men.
Hammer plays James Lord, an American writer and friend of the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (played by Geoffrey Rush). The film is set in the mid-1960s in Paris, where Giacometti has a studio and home he shares with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud). During a brief visit Giacometti, who is very famous, asks Lord to sit for a portrait. Lord agrees and changes his plans to accommodate the short time Giacometti assures his is all he will need. Giacometti lied. As the portrait sitting goes on for days (and days, and days…), plans are changed again and again and the two men delve into topics shallow and deep about life and art. Lord gets a very up close look at the curse of genius and we the audience get to eavesdrop on the bond that the two form over a shared love of art and respect for each other.
Final Portrait is not an action movie. It’s a biographical drama about an eccentric Swiss painter/sculptor. The pace is languid, the set is exquisite, and the performances are fantastic. Director Stanley Tucci (who I also love as an actor) is clear in his vision – this is to be an introspective look at the world of a famous artist, aging and indulgent, haunted and obsessive. If you’re looking for a riotous comedy or twisted drama, look elsewhere. If you know what to expect going in, you can appreciate the film for what it is – a patient study of a man, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic.
The performances are marvelous across the board. Geoffrey Rush is amazing as Giacometti. At turns introspective, intensely focused or intensely distracted, sometimes profane and explosive, and entirely eccentric; his Giacometti is a wonderful look into the blessings and curses of this creative mind. His marriage, his relationship with his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), his fascination with a local prostitute (Clémence Poésy), his dissatisfaction with his art, it is all part of what makes him a giant in the art world. Getting to explore that is fascinating.
Hammer is really more of a passive vessel as Lord. Lord is a writer and an art lover, and as such he wants to be there, wants to absorb this world and write about it (which he did, becoming Giacometti’s first biographer a number of years later). His exasperation with the painter as the sitting becomes a marathon rather than a sprint adds some good humor to the film, and his patience with the man is a testament to his appreciation of him as both a friend and an artist. Hammer does well with the role, looking every inch an American in 1964 and really selling the notion that someone could be invested enough in this project to stay…and stay…and stay.
Also excellent is Tony Shalhoub as Giacometti’s brother – the patience of a saint and the comic timing of Tony Shalhoub are a wonderful mixture. Poésy and Testud, while integral to the story, don’t have a lot of screen time. They are seen through the eyes of Giacometti and Lord. But they both make a lot out of a little and are excellent.
The set is absolutely amazing. A very literal recreation of Giacometti’s studio, it is filthy, labyrinthine, and feels like it’s crumbling as you watch. Filled with both finished and unfinished art, it plainly puts forth the question of why a wealthy and famous artist would choose such disarray for his work space. As you learn more about him, it becomes clear that the space very much mirrors the man. Incredible work by the entire crew.
Tucci’s direction is understated and meticulous. The story reveals itself naturally, without false external narrative driving the pace. He trusts his actors and each fully commits to their role. There are some really good interview snippets in the extras on the DVD – check them out for more insight into the movie and its inspirations.
Overall, Final Portrait is a very good biographical drama about a painter/sculptor of whom I had never heard. Rush and Hammer bring him into our world with empathy and humor (and that magical, magical voice), letting his eccentricities reveal his rather tortured inner world. It’s an excellent film, but it is slow and earnest. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the art world as well as fans of either primary actor. I learned a lot and found the entire production thoughtful and entertaining.