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February 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Berlin Film Festival — the Berlinale — aspires to foster film as art. It does not screen $100-million Hollywood productions. In fact, it hardly screens anything at all from the world’s movie capital. This year it selected only one American film for its Golden Bear competition, director Oren Moverman’s The Dinner, starring Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, Richard Gere and Steve Coogan. It also screened out of competition Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, starring Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer, a modest portrait of an aging eccentric Swiss artist as he paints his final portrait. Each of the films explores characters who have slid to the wrong side of the sane/insane equation. But while such characters compose much of the population of independent movies, and actors have taken home not a few awards for portraying them, they also expose themselves to the inevitable critical complaint from some critics that their performances have gone way over the top; after all, it’s hard to play a lunatic with restraint. Predictably, both films received mixed reviews. On the one hand, Kenji Fujishima in Slant magazine wrote, “When it comes to seeing the four main characters verbally dueling with each other  The Dinner is an electrifying experience.” Owen Gleiberman in Variety agreed, writing that the four principal actors “make a riveting quartet” and give “powerhouse performances.” Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter singled out Coogan for special praise, writing that he “hasn’t had a role this juicy in a long time and his facial expressions here are frequently more telling than anything he says.” On the other hand, Lee Marshall, writing in the British trade publication Screen Daily, described the film as “an unbalanced, uneven ride, a distracting hot and cold shower of intense scenes featuring four terrific actors and long, meandering passages of flashback filler.” And Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian utterly excoriated the filmmakers, dealing ithem arguably the rottenest review for any film screened so far at the festival. The director and actors, he wrote, “have come together to create something terrible: a shouty, hammy, tedious, damp-squib firework display of dullness.”  As for Tucci’s film, Final Portrait, most critics agreed that it was, like the portrait in the film, an overworked that nevertheless allowed Geoffrey Rush to ham it up brilliantly.