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      Final Portrait Review

      Final Portrait poster

      Final Portrait

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      The artist paints, a little. He sits back, leans forward, scowls, smokes, mutters, swears and flees the canvas and his studio for his favorite bistro. Or instead, he falls into bed with his favorite prostitute. Or with his neglected wife. Then he paints again.

      The artist's subject sits, hands folded in his lap, wondering how long this will continue.

      Is there a movie in that? Why, yes, a small but sure one. Writer-director Stanley Tucci, best known as an actor of supreme, sly command and a Mona Lisa smile, has made it. "Final Portrait" concerns a few fraught, peculiar days in September 1964 in Paris, when the Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti asked his American friend, James Lord, to sit for him.

      The session was supposed to take an afternoon. Eighteen days later, Giacometti completed the oil portrait to his usual degree of dissatisfaction. Lord wrote about it in his 1965 account "A Giacometti Portrait" and later wrote "Giacometti: A Biography" (1985).

      This is Tucci's fifth theatrical feature as director, and it comes from his own script, which might've served just as well as a small-cast, one-set play. Armie Hammer plays Lord, and narrates. Geoffrey Rush is Giacometti, and he's a close visual cousin to the real Giacometti, near the end of his career, all frizzed hair and dangling cigs.

      There are other players, entering and exiting the studio. Tucci's frequent collaborator, Tony Shalhoub, is lovely and understated as the devoted Diego Giacometti, whose studio was situated about 25 feet behind his brother's. Annette Giacometti, Alberto's wife, risks cliche: the long-suffering spouse of a philandering, difficult, charismatic crank in the throes of eternal self-doubt. Sylvie Testud doesn't get much screen time, but what she does with it is instructive; like Shalhoub, she works in an astute mode of minimalism, so that we lean into her silences.

      "Final Portrait" ventures outside the studio just enough to prevent the audience feeling like Lord, trapped on that stool, day after day. Director Tucci sends artist, subject and artist's muse out for a ride around town in a red sports car, in a scene evoking a French New Wave flash of freedom through movement. Some of the dialogue is on the clunky side; much of it comes straight (or nearly) from Lord's memoir; and Hammer has yet to find a fully easy-breathing way of behaving naturally on screen. Rush, by contrast, has so much fun with Giacometti's tetchy, restless qualities, you don't always buy the "tortured" part. Yet Rush is such a formidable technician, he creates a Giacometti of substance both real and theatrical.

      Best of all, Tucci's direction allows for a fairly realistic amount of down time between confrontations or between brushstrokes. "Final Portrait" is barely 90 minutes long, which is about right, and several of those minutes are wordless -- patient and observant of the artist's surroundings, inquisitive regarding what Giacometti is trying to will into being.

      MPAA rating: R (for language, some sexual references and nudity).

      Running time: 1:30

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