Stanley Tucci's filmmaking powers have grown: He makes this dramedy a tactile, immediate, authentic experience, as well as an insightful look into the artistic process. Final Portrait's cast is outstanding, and its dialogue is intelligent and witty. But it's Tucci's directorial choices that take a subject that could have been dry and fill it with life. Along with cinematographer Danny Cohen, production designer James Merifield, costumer Liza Bracey, and composer Evan Lurie, Tucci has crafted a world that has temperature and texture; we can almost smell Alberto's cluttered studio. Tucci lets viewers witness complete character interactions, often in two-shots (in which both people are shown, rather than cutting from close-up to close-up). This avoids some of the stilted formality of, say, The King's Speech (also filmed by Cohen). Here, close-up is used judiciously to provide insight into Alberto's vision or share detail. The studio feels painstakingly specific, with a kind of ordered chaos to which only the artist holds the decoder ring. The unfinished sculptures, paintings, and random stains feel like the inner workings of a unique brain. And Tucci's actors really live in it.
We feel for Alberto's wife, Annette. It's clear that she loves him; we eventually see that he loves her, too. But he's not living with the social constraints that "regular" people do. Annette accepts this, painfully, but requires her own comforts. As knowing brother Diego, Shalhoub quietly wields a smile of wisdom. He's a necessary, calming influence. Meanwhile, Caroline (Poésy) is a cherry bomb thrown through the window, a bracing jolt whenever she comes reeling in. And all these pieces, along with Alberto's self-doubt, eccentricities, and undeniable talent, somehow form the balance he requires -- as Diego puts it, a balance of unhappiness. As our window into the story, Lord is sympathetic and just as curious as we are -- and just as exasperated as the ordeal drags on. As the artist, Rush gives one of his most settled and centered performances. As he rattles off the reasons why he does the things he does, he drops cultured pearls, such as how "no portrait is ever finished." The drinking, smoking philanderer achieves a kind of zen as he complains of the hopelessness of his task. Lord says, "Then what we're doing is meaningless and impossible." Giacometti agrees: "And I'm not even doing it. I can only try to do it." You might find profundity in that if you thought about it.