The Goldfinch is the book to film adaptation of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner written by Donna Tartt. The book tackles such grand themes of grief and how one processes a tragic loss in their life. How these moments can rob so much from a person’s life. It’s an epic tale of a boy’s life who had something taken away from him way too young and told subtly and poignantly, or so I’ve heard, having never read the book, I can only go based off the reviews I’ve read for the book. If The Goldfinch is anything like how I described, then it’s film adaptation completely missed the point. The Goldfinch (film) is a slog to get through, clocking in at two and a half hours that essentially go nowhere interesting or of point.
The movie follows a boy named Theo between two points in his life. One when he is younger and is a survivor of a terrorist attack at an art museum where his mother is killed. And the other, as a young adult still struggling with the loss of his mother and the grief he never processed properly. Theo’s story at a young age is interesting enough. I think out of the incredibly star-studded cast, Oakes Fegley gives the best performance of the movie. I found his journey as a kid going through the motions to be simple, yet Fegley draws the audience in with his innocent demeanor to the point where I genuinely felt for Theo. He jumps between two different homes, one with a family friend played by Nicole Kidman and the other with his estranged father played by Luke Wilson. Most of the performances are bland. Nicole Kidman who has been rocking out a couple of great performances every year for the past little bit does nothing here to add anything of value to the story. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think she’s awful, I’m just saying anyone else could have played this role just as well. Someone who does stand out along Oakes Fegley is Luke Wilson though. I thought he put in an excellent performance. While his character is written fairly one dimensional, Wilson brings something I haven’t seen him do before to the table. Finn Wolfhard plays a role in this story as a Russia kid who befriends Theo. Unfortunately, Wolfhard’s accent is distracting, to say the least.
The Goldfinch has a heavy and layered plot. The first act does seem to set up a fairly interesting story and character with Theo. I don’t have too much of a problem with the first act storywise, it’s what the movie does with that setup that frustrates me. The problem here is when we jump to adult Theo, now played by Ansel Elgort. Elgort just doesn’t work for me. He tries so hard in this role that it just looks forced and unnatural. I don’t want to harp on the guy, but any connection the first half of the movie with young Theo was able to set up is completely gone by the time we jump to adult Theo. By this point, I think the movie has already missed the mark it was trying to set up. The Goldfinch is a painting that Theo steals after the terrorist attack and plays an important part in the story, or at least that’s what the movie is trying to tell us. I could care less about the painting and the significance it has on the story or the lack thereof in the case of the film. It feels like the film forgot about this essential part of the story until the third act when the movie finally decides it has a deeper connection to Theo. Sure it pops up from time to time in the first half of the story but it bears almost no weight. I can see and understand what the movie is trying to go with this story, but it just does it in a way that feels all too simple for a story that deserves a layered and three-dimensional script and direction.
The Goldfinch tries to be a high art film, with the beautiful scenery of Roger Deakins and the star-studded cast but fails to fully realize it’s stories themes and messages. This is a long movie to get through that has an unsatisfying ending that again seems too easy and simple for a story like this that will leave you asking yourself, “Is that it?” The Goldfinch is a major disappointment and is a sloppy, unfocused mess. While the imagery done by Deakins is stunning, I think that’s just to be expected whenever his name is attached to anything, the film feels muted in its emotions. In the end, walking out of the theater, I couldn’t tell what each character was feeling and what was the point of all this. I don’t think anyone learned anything from this experience or grew from it. I just left the movie having learned nothing, having gone through no experience here. Plotlines are forgotten, people who seem like they have weight in the movie become inconsequential. I’m rambling at this point, but I’m frustrated in the lack of emotion this emotional tale was given. The Goldfinch will leave you having learned nothing.