We’re just over a week away from the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War which marks the official start of the summer movie season. With Black Panther quickly moving towards home video, March and April have been long and slow in terms of Hollywood movie releases. There hasn’t been much to get excited about. This month, actor Stanley Tucci dropped his latest directorial effort, Final Portrait. What do you need to know about the art-inspired, period piece?
Final Portrait follows the meandering story of James Lord (Armie Hammer) when he agrees to sit for a portrait painting with artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). While the sitting begins with the expectation of it lasting mere hours, it quickly stretches into weeks. As such, the two men are thrust intimately into each others company as they must get to know each other during the long, slow sessions. Stanley Tucci directs the film from a script he adapted from James Lord’s memoir.
Likely the most striking thing about this film are the visuals and world-building. The narrative is set in Paris in the year 1964, and Tucci does a masterful job capturing the idyllic setting. The environments can only be described as a starving artist’s dream. The art studios and lofts are colorful and carefully constructed, clearly conjuring all the nostalgia that Paris of this era brings to mind. As the film progresses, there are a number of frames which feel like artistic wonders. In Tucci’s directing, Final Portrait is often lovely enough to pass for an actual painting.
Along these lines, the performances captured on screen (particularly Rush’s) are absolutely stellar. The Oscar winner is good in everything he touches, and his portrayal of Giacometti is no different. In fact, he’s almost too good. His take on the artist is frustrating. This becomes increasingly evident the later the movie goes. It is suprisingly easy to fall in with Lord’s perspective as Giacometti screams profanity and scratches out his painstaking work once again. Why can’t he just paint the darn portrait?
Among the performances, probably the biggest frustration is that Armie Hammer finds himself with little to do. He’s coming off a career year with Call Me By Your Name; however, he seems almost bored in this role. His primary purpose in the narrative is one of audience identification and little else. Much of his part involves posing for the painting, and he does this well. In fact, as Day Five stretches into Day Fourteen, it becomes clear that had Giacometti been a female artist, this movie would be a fascinating study in the female gaze. However, he isn’t. Armie Hammer ultimately does a stellar job with what he’s given… its just not enough to showcase his talent.
Final Portrait struggles a bit, especially in pacing and direction. The film is a complicated one, but the script is relatively sparse and meandering. As such, the pacing feels very slow. This is particularly true late into act two and into act three, which find the audience watching as multiple sittings simply implode. There’s not a lot of dialogue, and ultimately, neither character feels strong enough (or likeable enough) to carry such a slow moving story. Perhaps if we spent more time getting to know these men? As it stands, the film opens by dropping these characters into the situation. We’re given little time to get to know them, or what is going on, and the storytelling struggles as a result.
Early in Final Portrait there are some instances where Tucci’s directing doesn’t gel with the feel of the rest of the narrative. This is a smooth and polished period piece about artistic glamor and sophistication. Interestingly, there are a number of sequences early in act one where Tucci opts for a shaky, apparently hand-held camera. In a movie such as this, the choice feels jarring and out of place. However, these problems do fade as the film continues.
Final Portrait is a challenging work to say the least. The film is most certainly a visual work of art and is thoroughly entertaining to watch in this respect. However, the movie struggles with pacing issues which bog down the narrative. Fans of Stanley Tucci’s other works should definitely check this one out, as well as fans of Geoffrey Rush (outside of Pirates of the Caribbean). Final Portrait is beautifully produced and artfully constructed, but it feels like a very long slog.
Final Portrait is playing in theaters across the country now.