With his fifth feature as director, and his fourth as the screenwriter as well, Stanley Tucci has crafted an actor's duel that might play well on a stage, pitting his leads in a slow-boil showdown with Final Portrait. The mode is comic frustration, the story centered on a reasonable man (played by Armie Hammer) frustrated at the eccentricities of a wild-haired genius (Geoffrey Rush, as the painter Alberto Giacometti). The setting is the master's Parisian workshop, where American critic James Lord, Hammer's character, has agreed to sit for a portrait. Much of the film finds the pair in position, Lord sitting rigidly (complying with the artist's demands) and glumly (because the project is taking too many days) while the cantankerous Giacometti sputters and swears behind his easel.
Lord sits there for many days. Tucci asks us to do so for only 90 minutes, but that, too, proves a bit much. He has taken on one of the trickiest of storytelling challenges: How to make compelling an experience that is, for the most part, a drag? He trusts the eyes of his actors, capturing something of the complex interplay of artist and subject, yet we never quite see how that process results in the choices Giacometti makes on his canvas.
For all that looking, the film is often boisterous. Tucci sends ancillary characters crashing through the studio: Giacometti's wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), and favorite prostitute Caroline (Clemence Poesy), who scrambles about, hilariously, raspberrying her lips in imitation of the car she wants Giacometti to buy. The performances, as always in Tucci's films (Big Night, Blind Date), are uniformly strong.