Here’s the thing about genius artistic creatures. They’re often self-centred shits. And no matter how wonderful their work is, they make difficult subjects for me to watch and appreciate. Mr Turner being a similar case-in-point.
Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is a lauded, talented artist who is constantly sabotaging his own work, treats his wife and his mistress badly, and manipulates art writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) into repeatedly altering his own travel arrangements to pose for a portrait. Giacometti fusses, swears, interrupts his own work, destroys paintings and drawings and appears to have no endearing characteristics whatsoever. Heaven knows why anyone bothered with him at all. I wouldn’t have.
I’m guessing that Hammer’s character was just so keen and flattered to have been asked to be a subject that he didn’t want to give up sitting for the artist. But I felt annoyed that he was being used and couldn’t understand why he didn’t just not return the next day. There seemed to be nothing in it for him. And he could see he was being manipulated. It’s easier to see that Giacometti is an artist struggling with self-doubt and massive insecurity, and is having a constant internal (and sometimes external) debate about his relationship with art. It just didn’t grab me.
That’s not to say that Hammer and Rush don’t give good performances – they do – just that I never felt I understood the true nature of their relationship. Which I have to put down to the writing and directing. Stanley Tucci directs, and makes some good choices with the colour palette – white, grey, navy blue – to capture the feeling of artistic frustration, broken only once by a literal splash of colour when the work of a different artist is mentioned in passing.
The warmest, and most likeable character, is Giacometti’s long-suffering artist brother Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. But beyond him, there was very little warmth which left a distance between myself and the subject matter.