In this portrait of an artist perpetually unsatisfied with how his art captures the soul of his subject, Stanley Tucci's direction has the ease of a seasoned artist, willing to let each moment happen at its own pace. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Stanley Tucci’s “Final Portrait” captures a tiny moment in time. Based on a memoir by the American writer James Lord (played by Armie Hammer), it recounts a period in 1964 Paris, in which the artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), then in his mid-60s, painted a portrait of his friend Lord. A process that was supposed to take a very short time stretches into several weeks, as Lord repeatedly reschedules his trip home to New York and Giacometti agonizes over each brushstroke.
That’s basically it — this movie is, literally, about watching paint dry — but Tucci and the cast find a world of detail and nuance. Filmed in pleasantly monochromatic colors (everything seems to have taken on the gray of Giacometti’s sculptures), “Final Portrait” is itself a portrait of an artist; a man perpetually unsatisfied with how his art captures the soul of his subject. A brother (Tony Shalhoub), a wife (Sylvie Testud) and a mistress (Clemence Poesy) flit through, but “Final Portrait” is less about them than the precision with which Lord’s chair is placed every morning, the precise angle of his chin, the clenched jaw through which he must speak. “Don’t scratch,” says Giacometti. “I have an itch,” Lord replies grimly. “Don’t itch,” is the deadpan reply.
Tucci, better known as an actor, has directed a handful of films since his 1996 debut as co-director of “Big Night,” and his work here has the ease of a seasoned artist, willing to let each moment happen at its own pace. You wonder, watching “Final Portrait,” if this 90-minute movie might have been better served in a third of its time. And then you get caught up in the way Tucci lets a round lamp fade into a glowing moon, or how Rush’s posture suggests a lifetime of bending over a canvas, or how a face on that canvas slowly emerges, from a forest of lines — and suddenly, time passes, and art happens.
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★★★ “Final Portrait,” with Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clemence Poesy. Written and directed by Stanley Tucci, based on the memoir “A Giacometti Portrait” by James Lord. 90 minutes. Rated R for language, some sexual references and nudity. Opens April 20 at Pacific Place.