‘Final Portrait’: an all-too-brief glimpse into Alberto Giacometti’s life

final portrait review
Armie Hammer (left) and Geoffrey Rush (right) in ‘Final Portrait’

2018 was a big year for Armie Hammer, whose starring role in the Oscar-winning, queer, coming-of-age film Call Me By Your Name garnered him widespread acclaim and accolades across various awards circuits. Despite being around for a minute, the actor had yet to be cast in a role that would afford him the range he needed to showcase the extent of his acting chops. And with the role came a lot of anticipation for the actor’s next two ventures: the newly-released Final Portrait and Sundance hit Sorry to Bother You coming this Summer.

Co-starring Geoffrey Rush, Final Portrait recounts the true story of a brief meeting between American writer James Lord (Hammer) and famed Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (Rush) in 1964, shortly before the painter’s death in early 1966. During their time together, Giacometti paints one final portrait and asks Lord to model it for him. That encounter would later result in one of Lord’s most critically acclaimed books, a biography titled A Giacometti Portrait.

More: ‘Phantom Thread’: on the trials of loving an artist

What drives this Stanley Tucci-directed film is undeniably the dynamic between the two main characters. On one hand is Rush’s Giacometti, a relentless, self-hating genius, dubious of everything he paints and pedantic of every stroke of his paintbrush, yet somehow equally nonchalant towards life altogether. What begins as an affair of a few days to produce a portrait for Lord turns into weeks of labour, emotional stagnation, and frustration as much looms around the painter and within him. An artist is someone who both loves and hates her craft, but is unable to produce anything without one or the other. It is within that small paradoxical space that Rush’s Giacometti lives, and the seasoned actor portrays that dichotomy superbly.

final portrait review
Armie Hammer (right) and Geoffrey Rush (left) in ‘Final Portrait’

Aside from the uncanny physical resemblance, Rush effortlessly (though that accent doesn’t always keep up) falls into the trope of an actor tortured not by the emotional weight of being — as the cliché would suggest — but by his inability to meet his own expectations and ambitions for his art. It is a powerful performance in a movie too small to generate the buzz its leading performance warrants, but one that underscores the actor’s caliber well.

With his performance opposite Rush, Armie Hammer plays a character not too different from his Oliver in Call Me By Your Name, adding to what seems to be a growing repertoire of subtle and sublime characters. Hammer’s Lord is extremely put-together and reserved, often unable to express his frustration at Giacometti for prolonging painting the portrait, yet equally transfixed by the painter and his process. His passive behaviour is what allows for the power struggle to tip to Rush, allowing for a clearer observation of his mannerisms, both as a painter and as a person, and what those say about him.

final portrait review
Sylvie Testud (right) and Geoffrey Rush (left) in ‘Final Portrait’

Hammer’s character, however, is not afforded the same luxury. Final Portrait advertises itself as the story of Alberto Giacometti’s life, but that is too broad to define the story Tucci decides to tell. The film is, in essence, a few weeks’ worth a glimpse into Giacometti’s chaotic life from the eyes of Lord. And while there is a certain allure to telling such an encapsulated story — especially one that is based on a true account — successfully managing such a narrative is difficult if the characters’ pasts do not inform their intersection. We discover very little about Lord throughout the film, and what we discover about Giacometti is a direct result of the home-court advantage, rather diminishing the significance of their encounter and failing to leave the lasting impression a film like this one should leave.

More: ‘Loving Vincent’ pays tribute to Vincent Can Gogh’s artistry

Despite the powerful performances and the gorgeous backdrop (reminiscent of portrait-esque sets much like that of The Danish Girl), Final Portrait fails to substantiate the figures at the center of it. It remains an ambitious project that never quite realises itself, but one that boasts strong formal elements nonetheless.

Final Portrait opens in theaters on March 23, 2018.

Rating: 72/100

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