It has been ten years since Stanley Tucci directed a movie, and over twenty since he made his one true master-piece: Big Night. The story that brings him back to behind-the-camera, is again, a story of artistic process, of creating something special in a limited window of time. Final Portrait is, in fact, the story of a portrait of writer James Lord (Armie Hammer, now permanently positioned as a cinematic “object of one’s affection”) by his friend Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush, now permanently positioned as a cinematic “creative madman”).
The story takes places over the two weeks that this process took, and takes loving, microscopic interest in the theoretically mundane aspects of creating a masterpiece. Mostly set in a studio, with two men (and a few women, fleeting in and out) as its main focus, the film creates an insular world filled with equal part quirks and tedium that often feels like eavesdropping.
It is a noble idea, because how could any one filmmaker set out to actually UNDERSTAND the genius of a person like Giacometti in just 90 minutes? An artist who is both one of the most celebrated of his time, but who can’t function in the real world? An artist who can make something worth $20 million dollars in mere two weeks, but can’t provide his wife with a functioning kitchen? An artist who has no concept of time (those two weeks were originally slated to be “a few hours”) or real life responsibilities of those around him? An artist blessed but also possessed by talent that may be bigger than what he, as a person, can handle?
These are all BIG questions. Too big some may even argue. Best to them maybe, instead, simply focus on a moment in time, and try to recreate a framework for understanding what goes into creating a masterpiece? Flip the biopic script, and go really miniature?
Tucci steps up to the task and challenge fastidiously and with obvious fascination for its chosen topic.
The disarrayed studio space is just so. The casting is spot on. The enjoyment of minutia is ever-present. For some, it may all be a little too much about too little. After all, the main thing that happens during the 90 minutes we are invited in, is painting (save for one break which leaves not too much of a mark on the already ravaged surroundings Giacometti works in). It is an open ended proposition to essentially watch paint dry. But for those of us who relish a look behind the curtain, no matter how messy it may be, Final Portrait is a perfectly unperfect little cinematic morsel to relish.