REVIEW BY OISÍN WALSH
Biopics are used to showcase the lives of talented and inspirational individuals of the past. Often these films are characterised by long running times, portraying the highlights of the subject’s lifespan. In Final Portrait, director Stanley Tucci chooses to focus on the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti played here by Geoffrey Rush. However, Tucci does not attempt to capture the life of Giacommeti in this biopic, or even focus on a significant moment in his career. Instead, Final Portrait marks the weeks it took for him to complete a painting of American art critic and writer James Lord. This dramatization of a insignificant moment in Giacometti’s life lasts just 90 minutes, a relatively short running time for a biopic.
Lord (Armie Hammer), was informed it would take two or three hours to complete the portrait, “an afternoon at most” yet he is persuaded to remain for extended periods of time until finally he leaves after 19 days. Nothing much really happens for the length of the film, days pass, Giacometti paints Lord, they talk, they drink in local bars, and Giacometti spends his nights with his mistress Caroline in full view of his wife and old muse, Annette. There’s no climactic moment or big speech as would commonly be found in a biopic of this nature and while that’s a refreshing trait of this film, it does not make it superior to others of its genre; it subverts the genre’s formula but does not effectively supplant it.
Performances are committed and enthusiastic, Rush is wonderful as the tortured artist who believes that a piece of art is never finished and all one can do is try. Giacometti is a vulgar, cranky and coarse old man who breaks the silence of the painting sessions by screaming ‘fuck’ at his painting, after ruining his piece with some ineffable error. Hammer acts as a great foil to Rush, he is well mannered, polite and level headed. It’s a truly a mark of a great actor when they can still be an engaging and memorable part of the film when placed opposite such an explosive performance as Rush’s of Giacometti. It’s the dialogue and occasionally the silences shared between the two that make this film witty. They engage in verbal sparring matches during their portrait sessions and short walks through Paris. It can be very entertaining to observe Giacometti gently persuade his subject to stay a little longer, but these moments of discussion they enjoy are the only true source of entertainment in the film.
One could be impressed by the impressive design of the artist’s studio, full of unfinished sculptures, paintings and drawings. A grey ruin caked in clay and littered with disused art supply. A modest gallery cluttered with art that Giacometti will occasionally tend to. It suits him as a character; surrounded by reminders that none of his work is ever truly finished, adding to his insecurity. But this impressive backdrop is not enough to sustain this film which is likely to leave its audience bored of seeing Giacometti paint Lord for the majority of the film.
Tucci, is trying to create a feeling of what Giacometti’s daily would’ve been like, who he really was. We see how he interacts with people he encounters in his daily life, we acquire an understanding of his relationships with his brother, his wife and his mistress. By the end of the film, you understand what kind of a character Giacometti was and would be able to predict how he would react in certain situations, but you won’t have a lot of fun achieving this understanding.
It is an admirable endeavour of Tucci to try and create a clear idea of what a few days spent with this uncommon and sometimes unhinged character would be like, but he fails to create an entertaining nor memorable film. You’ll laugh at Rush yelling ‘fuck’ at the height of his lungs the first few times, but the jokes become tired even if the performances do not. All one can really take away from this film is an appreciation for the leading actors and the high production value. It’s a small mercy that Tucci kept the film at a short running time because Final Portrait is ultimately a boring film that will not leave you feeling inspired by Giacometti’s artistry, as it should, but with a tired yawn in your mouth.