VOD film review: The Goldfinch
Bianca Garner | On 26, Jan 2020Reading time: 4 mins
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman
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Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch is an epic novel consisting of over 700 pages and charting the life of its protagonist Theodore ‘Theo’ Decker over the course of several years. Many have deemed the novel ‘unfilmable’ due to its complex storyline featuring a multitude of characters and an unreliable narrator. When it was announced that there would be a movie, many fans were apprehensive, to say the least. Sadly, the concerns were justified: this adaptation of The Goldfinch is a crushing disappointment and painful to watch.
Director John Crowley and writer Peter Straughan have somehow managed to reduce the book down to a runtime of 149 minutes and, as a result, the magic of the book has been lost. What we have ended up with is a poor imitation of The Goldfinch, which feels rushed and watered down. Both critics and viewers have seemingly rejected the film, causing Warner Bros. and Amazon Studios to potentially lose a combined $50 million.
The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley as a child, Ansel Elgort as an adult), a Manhattan youth who loses his beloved mother Audrey in a terrorist bombing. Theo is sent to live with the family of classmate Andy Babour (Ryan Foust). The Babours are an upper-class family headed by Samantha (Nicole Kidman), who seems a lot more caring towards Theo compared to how she is presented in the novel.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Theo is harbouring a deep secret. He has stolen a famous painting titled The Goldfinch, one of the few remaining works by Carel Fabritius. Theo starts up a friendship with James “Hobie” Hobart (Jeffrey Wright), whose deceased partner Welton “Welty” Blackwell died in the bombing and gave a ring to Theo to return. It is discovered that Welty’s niece, Pippa (Aimee Laurence as a child, Ashleigh Cummings as an adult), also survived the bombing, and Theo soon develops romantic feelings towards her. Before Theo can become accustomed to his new life, his deadbeat father (Luke Wilson) – and his new girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) – turn up to whisk him away to Las Vegas.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to sum up the story in just two simple paragraphs, such is the density of the material. And this is why The Goldfinch as a film simply doesn’t work. The story is too epic in scope for the film format. To those familiar with the source material, there is a middle section of Theo’s story that takes place in Las Vegas, where he meets his best friend Borris (Finn Wolfhard as a child, Aneurin Barnard as an adult). However, Crowley and Straughan blitz through this section with such velocity that it feels empty and disjointed. Characters are introduced to us like they’re on a conveyor belt, here for one second, gone the next.
There is praise to be had. The film looks stunning thanks to Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography, which elevates it to another level, and Trevor Gureckis’ score wonderfully complements Deakins’ camerawork. However, it’s hard to get past the fact that the script feels like a summary taken from Wikipedia. The main issue is that the pacing is all over the place and certain plot points and characters crucial to the novel’s plot haven’t been included, which makes for a frustrating viewing experience; the concluding events that take place in Amsterdam are only allocated 20 minutes of runtime, despite taking up a large proportion of the book, which loses the ending’s emotional impact.
Both Fegley and Elgort give a great performance as Theo at two different stages of his life, Kidman is in her element playing the role of an icy blonde socialite, and the supporting cast do their best (despite some actors feeling slightly miscasted or underused). However, the performers alone cannot carry an entire film, especially as they seem hindered by the script and reduced to delivering exposition over and over again. We don’t feel connected to anyone, let alone our main character.
The Goldfinch is hard to recommend to anyone, especially to those who have read the book. It’s an absolute mess, lacking any soul or real purpose.