Sydney Film Festival Review: Final Portrait (UK/USA, 2017) can’t overcome its bland setting

Based on a memoir by American writer James Lord and adapted for the screen by actor Stanley Tucci, Final Portrait is a concise passion project with committed performances and evident production care that sadly doesn’t overcome its bland setting.

Anchored by a wonderful turn from Geoffrey Rush as eccentric painter Giacometti, this dramedy of sorts is set in 1960’s Paris where Lord (Armie Hammer) recounts his experience with the artist when he was summoned to sit for a portrait.  Told that it won’t take long, Lord ultimately extended his intended 3-day visit to almost 3 weeks as he learnt first-hand at Giacometti’s penchant for constantly delaying his own work; the artist’s perfectionism, self-doubt and volatile behaviour all contributing to this.

In between his unsuccessful sittings, Lord humours Giacometti by accompanying him on day walks and drinking sessions, all the while interacting with the core trio of characters that assist in defining Giacometti’s character; his long-suffering wife (Sylvie Testud), put-upon brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), and frenzied prostitute Caroline (Clemence Poesy, irritatingly grating from the moment she enters the film), who serves as both his muse and his mistress.

Hammer’s calm demeanour helps centre the film as Rush’s unhinged eccentricity will either be a trait audience members swallow or not, and as committed to the role Rush is, there’s a flair of theatrically to it that isn’t always as endearing as intended.  In contrast, Testud as wife Annette delivers a subtle nuance that only highlights how much better the film would have been had their broken relationship been a primary focus.

The film’s Parisian setting is never allowed to fully shine, though its Bohemian soundtrack is, but James Merrifield‘ set design proves triumphant with Giacometti’s studio a richly textured mess awash in a sea of distressed greys.  There’s brilliance and beauty peppered throughout, but ultimately Final Portrait can’t brush over the stilted frame that homes its components.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Final Portrait screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival, where it was reviewed.