On the surface, The Goldfinch looks like an award-worthy prestige project. It's based on Donna Tartt's best-selling novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. It has a cast full of esteemed actors. It was directed by John Crowley, whose previous film was the Oscar-nominated Brooklyn. You wouldn't think those combined elements could fail, and yet they do. The Goldfinch is a dull, dreary picture that never seems sure where it's going but takes two-and-a-half hours to get there anyway.
The main character is Theo Decker (played as a child by Oakes Fegley and as a young adult by Ansel Elgort). His mother was killed in a terrorist explosion at an art museum, an event he holds himself responsible for. After this tragedy, the orphaned Theo gets taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family, led by matriarch Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman). He becomes like another son to her. What no one knows is that, in the aftermath of the explosion, Theo took with him a painting that was done by an acclaimed Dutch artist.
The Goldfinch undoubtedly makes more sense on the page than it does on the screen. The film adaptation meanders randomly between Theo's early years and his young adulthood. Scenes with him as a kid find him interacting with a series of one-dimensional characters, including his no-good father (Luke Wilson) and his sleazy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson), a Ukrainian teen (Finn Wolfhard) with a fondness for drugs, and an antiques dealer (Jeffrey Wright). We're supposed to believe that each of them has some profound impact on Theo's life, but they're either thinly written or so cliched that the effect is unconvincing.
Worse are the sections with adult Theo. The Goldfinch ends up with him getting ensnared in a complicated scheme after the painting winds up in the wrong hands. The story even briefly turns into a pseudo-action picture toward the end. Ostensibly, we're supposed to be following him as he attempts to heal from childhood trauma. Getting sidetracked with this nonsense (which, again, probably played better on the page) just leads to frustration.
The Goldfinch crams in so much disparate stuff that it becomes unfocused. The film never pulls all the characters and ideas together meaningfully. None of what happens feels authentic, and none of the characters – despite the best efforts of the cast – are even remotely relatable. The film looks great, yet remains an emotionally empty experience.
The Goldfinch comes to DVD and Blu-ray on December 3. A complimentary copy was provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for the purposes of this review.
The supplementary materials begin with “The Goldfinch Unbound,” a 13-minute feature looking at the making of the film. Among the topics discussed are trying to wrangle Tartt's massive novel into a workable screenplay, casting, and creating the look of the movie. “The Real Goldfinch” runs eight minutes and focuses on the Carel Fabritius painting at the center of the story. (The film used an immaculate reproduction.)
Finally, there are seventeen minutes of deleted scenes that fill in a few gaps and/or give a little more context.
The picture and sound quality on the disc are first-rate.
out of four
The Goldfinch is rated R for drug use and language. The running time is 2 hours and 29 minutes.