Sometimes a film comes out that defies mainstream conventions so much that we describe them as “arthouse”. This term is given new meaning with Final Portrait – an arthouse film that focuses on the process of creating art, through the lens of Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti.
This is a film with many positives and things to recommend. But, as can often be the way with the arthouse, some useful conventions that may have been needed have been neglected, putting a dent in the end product.
Final Portrait tells the story of one of Giacometti’s final works, a portrait of an American writer James Lord. Lord, who poses while visiting from New York, is told that the process should last no more than an afternoon. But Giacometti’s neurotic perfectionism and a distracting prostitute mean that the process drags along for far longer. Over the process, we are treated to an insight into the tortured and unsettling world of the famed artist.
The performances throughout this film are excellent and the director, Hunger Games star Stanley Tucci, did a wonderful job with casting. Armie Hammer excels with these types of films, especially in contrast to his All-American action roles in The Lone Ranger and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and in a film with lesser performances the show could have been stolen by veteran actor Tony Shalhoub.
But in this film, the focus is entirely on Geoffrey Rush in the role of Giacometti. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the skill of Rush, in this film or throughout his career. In fact, with all respect to big names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gary Oldman, it wouldn’t be hard to argue for Rush being the best male actor of the modern age. In this film, Rush is given an opportunity to show off his range, with scenes ranging from raging like a lunatic to his long-suffering wife through to wistful and humorous discussions on topics such as childhood fantasies, ageing and Pablo Picasso.
There are major issues with the film though, even if none of them are Rush’s fault. First, my major gripe is the pacing of the film. I am a stickler for good pacing, but if you think of a TV episode that spends too much of the allotted time in the set up, and then has to conclude everything in the last 10 minutes, you’ve got this movie. Except it’s also such a slow burn that if you listed everything that happened before the last 10 minutes, you’d have “not much”. And the last 10 minutes thus become a bit abrupt and unfulfilling. It might make sense for the story, but it doesn’t make outstanding cinema.
My second gripe, and this one is minor, but shaky cam is NOT needed for a film about art. Stop using it anywhere except fast action scenes. And even then, use it sparsely. It’s a film technique, don’t treat it like beer at a frat party.
Overall, this film will find its audience among cinefiles and art aficionados but this is a film that will likely fail to connect with a range of audiences.
3.2/5 – a well made but fundamentally flawed film.
At the conclusion of every review I post, until such a time that Hollywood and the rest of the world deal with this issue, I am going to post a link to a little think piece I wrote regarding Harvey Weinstein and co. This week, Woody Allen expressed fears that men might be unfairly targeted for abusing women, while the Academy still counts among its members the likes of Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby – proving that we have a long way to go. We cannot afford to let this issue die out, drowned by a new buzz topic, and hopefully this little reminder will go some way to keeping the issue alive in the minds of at least my readers.