Hammer time is in a Rush to get out of 1960s Paris as he continues his European cinematic tour.
The artistic process is often equally as rewarding as it is frustrating. The end product is always worth the enormous effort put into it, yet that same amount of effort, had it been put into the correct places, could yield a potentially greater final artistic output. This sentiment isn’t meant to trivialize the give and take of attempting (and failing) in different creative endeavors, but it is meant to stifle the idea that this kind of failure is always necessary.
“The Final Portrait” takes a clear stance on this issue, saying that the artistic process is usually only successful when born out of strife and indecision. The film is small in scale, focusing on the creative partnership between an artist and the subject of his latest portrait, portrayed masterfully in a career-defining performance from Geoffrey Rush and suitably by Armie Hammer. Rush’s strife never begins or ends over the film’s two week slice of life, but rather meander in and out of the front of his mind, all haunting him or some sense or another. His outlet from these difficulties becomes more and more emblematic of how he wishes he could change his real-world shortcomings, as he paints over the face of the portrait at least a half dozen times. The relationship and boundaries between his art and his life falter incessantly, never truly breaking through but always on the surface, waiting for their chance to strike again.
Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Alberto Giacometti oozes of this kind of penetrating discord, with him consistently repeating the opinion that he doesn’t know what he’s doing when he paints something well. That kind of ignorance extends to his relationships, where he seems unable to understand how he has mistreated his wife through his affair or his friend James by making him extend his stay by over two weeks to finish the portrait. The film often makes its audience feel as frustrated as Armie Hammer’s character is with this process and the constant recycling of ideas it demands. This lesson is important as any other as it refers to art, though. Being able to put the craft and final product over any sort of deadline is crucial is at comes to true artistic quality. Sometimes, however, it is the most confusing and difficult people who can reach this plateau of creative success.
The kind of person who feels comfortable hiding millions of dollars around his studio and carrying on an open affair with a prostitute in full view of his wife generally is never forced to truly confront their vices. However, in the case of Giacometti, it is specifically his vices that made him the somehow infinitely likable and genuine person he is. He is a liar, a narcissist, and a constant procrastinator, at least in his mind. Yet is his exaggerations, his love of self, and his refusal to accept mediocrity paint a much more powerful portrait than he does of a man who truly has nothing left to lost other than his ability to create. No project is ever truly finished to Giacometti, so at the end of the film when Hammer simply goes home with a mostly finished portrait, I couldn’t help but feel like another work of his. Worked on tirelessly and infused with infinite amounts of character, but still unfinished. Sometimes, though, it is this knowledge of work left to do that forces true evolution, which is a message far more impactful than that of a single portrait. Stanley Tucci should be commended for his control and conciseness over such delicate subject matter.