“A couple of hours”, Swiss-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti says, estimating the time-frame it might take to complete a portrait of his latest subject, American writer and friend James Lord. It’s also the duration that Stanley Tucci’s film feels like, even though it comes in at a slim 90 minutes. Based on Lord’s book A Giacometti Portrait, Final Portrait avoids the usual biopic pitfalls, yet succumbs to the half-baked slightness that can plague talky, miniaturist chamber pieces. As such, the film (Tucci’s first in ten years) alternates shakily between two modes: instances of actorly delight, wryly tackling the exasperating nature of the artistic process, and crushing, stagey tedium, unable to offset the insistent feeling that there’s probably not enough material here for a feature-length movie.
Giacometti, of course, is a tailor-made showcase for Geoffrey Rush, who relishes every doddering, obnoxious, insufferable impulse of the chain-smoking painter-sculptor. Armie Hammer instills Lord with a bemused, respectful composure that grows funnier when we’re waiting for it to crack under the pressure of Giacometti’s eccentric demands. However, one can’t help but feel the film’s true strength lies in James Merifield’s production design, equally thorough in its atmospheric mounting of ’60s Paris as it is the grimy, chaotic, airless milieu of Giacometti’s studio. The latter, with its crumbling walls, easel-strewn floors and unfinished sculptures, reinforces the Kafka-esque absurdity of the premise in a way that Rush’s clownish portrayal and the middling whimsy of Tucci’s direction fail to illuminate.