The Goldfinch (Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fedley, Finn Wolfhard, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson) – One of the most highly anticipated film adaptations of the year is The Goldfinch. Based faithfully on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch is a brooding, long soap opera that loyalists to the book will love. In other words, if you liked the book, you will like the movie. But if you didn’t read the 700+-page novel, you will likely be disappointed. That appeared to be the consensus at the advanced screening I attended.
The basic story is that our protagonist, Theo Decker, survives a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that killed dozens, including his mother. As he awoke in the ashes of the explosion, he takes the famous Carel Fabritius painting, The Goldfinch, which is presumed destroyed. Taken in by rich socialites in the wake of his mother’s death, he becomes part of the family, which includes his friend, Andy. Andy’s repressed mother (played by Nicole Kidman) protects Theo, identifies the child’s trauma, and even gives him prescription sleeping medication. When Theo’s estranged and derelict father, Larry (Luke Wilson), finally shows up to take his son to a new home in Las Vegas, the boy enters a new life. In Vegas, we meet a new cast of characters, including Larry’s self-centered, smart-alecky girlfriend, Xandra (Sarah Paulson), and a new schoolmate, Boris (Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things). Both Xandra and Boris are drugheads with Theo becoming a willing addict. Boris is bold but he is also regularly beaten by his Russian father. In short, everyone in this film is damaged.
When Theo realizes his father is using him to get to the money left to him by his mother, he flees back to New York. He shows up at the doorstep of an antique restorer, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), whose niece, Pippa (Ashleigh Cummins), received a head injury in the museum explosion, which also took the life of Hobie’s partner. Hobie teaches Theo the antiques business where the young man proves to be a brilliant marketer and front man. But one day, he misrepresents a piece of furniture as an antique to the wrong person, who reveals the fraud and, through amazingly implausible research, reveals that Theo stole The Goldfinch. It’s here that the movie actually develops some pace. All this takes about an hour-and-45-minutes. Up to here, it is all mood, piano music, and lethargic pace. Suddenly, things happen.
Theo gets engaged to Kitsey (she is Andy’s sister), his soulmate, Pippa, returns from England, and Boris shows up in New York. Theo’s addiction drives him down; Boris reveals the biggest secret of the movie; Hobie delivers a lecture; and The Goldfinch goes missing. The mood pic becomes a thriller in Act III, and all I can think about is how much better this movie would have been if 30 minutes had been taken out of the first two acts.
Director John Crowley (Brooklyn) stays way too true to the novel to the detriment to the movie. He lingers on the character development in the way a novel might. All the viewer wants to do is to skip 200-300 pages and get right to the good stuff.
The Goldfinch had a real chance to be a good movie but the award-winning novel doomed its cinematic possibility. The best acting belongs to the unknown actors, particularly those playing Theo and Boris. Kidman is better as the repressed mother than the aging widow (she actually ages way too fast). Wilson and Paulson are both miscast. Jeffrey Wright is wonderful as Hobie.
Previewed in the past week at the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie has garnered generally poor reviews. This film will not do well at the box office. However, it is a must-see for people who slogged through the 700 pages of the book because they will generally feel satisfied that Crowley and Company were true to the novel.