'Final Portrait' Review: A Charming Painting of Friendship

Stanley Tucci's latest film explores the complicated beauty of being a painter, and the bond that can form between subject and artist.

Stanley Tucci’s latest film explores the complicated beauty of being a painter, and the bond that can form between subject and artist.

Often the people we are drawn to most in life are unreasonable and complicated. It’s not always clear why that’s the case, but in telling the story of a friendship rooted in artistic appreciation, Final Portrait works to figure that out.

Directed by Stanley Tucci, the film is based on American writer James Lord’s (Armie Hammer) memoir about his experience sitting for Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) over the course of, let’s just say, more than a few days. It’s 1962, and no one cares about painted portraits anymore. That’s a photographers’ job now. At least, that’s what Giacometti says. It’s clear that’s not what he thinks. He beats himself up over every little stroke, consistently doubting himself and telling Lord that he typically gives up when hope is most present. Between the two of them, friendship is created, even if their purpose for working together gets a little skewed along the way.

Some films feel like they would fare better as a play than as a movie, and at first glance, Final Portrait could feel like one of those films. There are times when the story feels very dialogue heavy, dialogue necessary. But the way Tucci directs the camera is so essentially cinematic, placing us right in Giacometti’s perspective all while making sure to keep Lord as the narrator, that it becomes clear adapting this story in any other medium would not have made as strong of an impact.

The handheld camera is often used throughout the film, specifically in moments where Giacometti is painting, or when we’re meant to see something through his lens, and it is well used.  Even though Lord tells the story and it’s his portrait being painted, Giacometti steals the show. After all, Lord is the writer here, stepping out of his own story for a moment to tell another’s. We don’t get much of his life or background, but in this case, we’re not exactly meant to. During this moment in his life, he is so encompassed by this artist, making all that led him up to that point and all that awaits him afterward seem irrelevant.

The back-and-forth between Giacometti and Lord, Giacometti and his brother, Giacometti and his wife Annette, Giacometti and anyone really, is where the film truly shines. The dialogue is fun, witty, and engaging. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, a welcome deviation from a tale that can both depress you and inspire you.

But no matter how charming, or how frustrating of a character Giacometti can be, Lord stays until he feels its appropriate to leave. And the question is, why? This is based on a true story, so it’s not the filmmakers skewing logic, but it’s still a valid question.

The film works not only to answer it, but to question it as well, and this own self-reflection is a powerful tool in portraying the friendship between these two.

There are moments where it seems like Lord is crazy to continue. No sane person could put up with this for so long, but then again, not too many sane individuals have probably spent their time sitting for Alberto Giacometti, complex figure that he is. Not only an artist but a man who pauses in doorways and randomly leaves dinner tables.

In this film, there’s a lot of blind trust that doesn’t always feel logical but feels right for the story being told. It’s the classic narrative of the troubled artist, but shown in an interesting light, from the perspective of an individual who probably continued to both processes and cherishes the experience for the rest of his life.