Visually, The Goldfinch is quite striking.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, The Goldfinch has been adapted for the big screen by director John Crowley, who is probably best known for 2015’s Brooklyn. Armed with award-winning source material and a cast oozing with talent, Crowley seemed to have all the pieces in place for a strong film.
In the aftermath of a museum bombing that claims his mother, Theo (Oakes Fegley; Pete’s Dragon) is taken in by the Barbour family. As he navigates his emotional trauma, Theo begins to feel like part of the family and is especially embraced by Samantha (Nicole Kidman), who invites him to summer with them in Maine. Before that can happen, though, his absentee father Larry (Luke Wilson) shows up with his girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) to take Theo back to Las Vegas to live with them.
Now in rural Las Vegas, Theo strikes up a friendship with Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Ukrainian-born boy that has lived all over the world due his father’s work as a miner. Things seem OK for a while, but it turns out that Larry is a degenerative gambler that has been trying to swindle money left for Theo by his mother. When he learns the money is inaccessible to him, he gets drunk and dies in an auto accident. Fearing he’ll be placed in foster care, Theo returns to New York to live with antiques dealer Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), whose partner had died in the same explosion as Theo’s mother.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Theo had stolen a painting in the confusion of the bombing, and as an adult (played by Ansel Elgort; Baby Driver) one of his buyers threatens to go to the FBI unless Theo sells it to him. Now engaged to be married to Kitsey (Willa Fitzgerald), the daughter of Samantha, Theo unexpectedly bumps into an adult Boris (Aneurin Barnard; Dunkirk), who after a few drinks offers a shocking revelation that turns Theo’s world completely upside down.
There are two very strong elements in The Goldfinch. First, is the cast. There are a several high-quality actors here, particularly in the supporting roles with Kidman, Wright and a barely recognizable Paulson, who is absolutely pitch perfect in look and delivery as a Vegas cocktail waitress. Elgort does a good job of playing the tortured soul that looks to have everything together on the surface as well. The younger version isn’t quite as good, but Fegley certainly does enough.
Second, is the film’s look. There’s a very clean, attractive style to how things are shot, and the stark divide between New York and Las Vegas helps you feel Theo’s isolation and anguish over leaving his home to come to this new place. There’s always some level of appeal to seeing upper-class NYC, and there’s plenty of that, too. Bottom line, the film is undoubtedly a real looker.
Having never read the novel, we can’t speak to how accurate of a portrayal the film delivers, but given that the source material won an award, it’s hard to imagine it was anywhere near as dull and unfocused as what is on screen. At nearly two and a half hours, The Goldfinch sometimes felt like an undertaking to watch as it meandered between the distant past, recent past and present, often extending shots for artistic value rather than keeping the pacing crisp.
While acting is unquestionably the film’s strong suit, the character of Boris sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ve enjoyed Wolfhard in Stranger Things and It, but here he’s doing what sounds like a stereotypical accent. His kiss of Theo as he’s fleeing Las Vegas is never revisited when they reconnect, and it never feels like there’s a romantic connection with the adult versions. It just felt a little disjointed.
There’s a decided lack of conflict and resolution for what can only be classified as a drama, and it’s fair to say the studio was aware of this when they made the trailer, which suggested the whereabouts of the painting would be a much more pervasive theme in the movie. Instead, what little action there is takes place late and offers very little in terms of fallout since the vast majority of time is spent in the past.
There are two behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 20 minutes covering the making of the film and a little background on the actual art. There’s also 15-plus minutes of deleted scenes, accompanied by introductions from the director, who goes into some detail as to why things were cut. It’s fine for what it is.
The Goldfinch feels more like a collection of immaculately shot, mostly well-acted scenes that never really add up to a cohesive, engaging experience even as the minutes pile up.