The 2013 novel, "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt is considered a modern literary classic...it was even awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But this film adaptation doesn't seem to give the story its due justice, as it gets bogged down with melodrama and a few instances of bad casting.
This film adaptation of "The Goldfinch" apparently follows the book quite closely...maybe a bit too closely. A 13-year old boy, Theodore Decker (played by Oakes Fegley as a boy and later by Ansel Elgort as an adult) is literally ripped from his mother in a seemingly innocuous moment...mom briefly leaves his side while at an art museum, when a blast from a terrorist attack reduces the place to rubble. Theo survives, and in searching for his mother, comes across a strange man near death, who instructs him to take a famous painting that somehow survived the explosion - a painting of a Goldfinch - to the man's colleague on the outside. Theo's life is changed in those moments, in more ways than one.
Young Theo doesn't know where to turn, so he tells the authorities about one of his friend's mothers, Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), who begrudgingly accepts to care for him. He eventually goes to live with his dead-beat dad (Luke Wilson) and girlfriend (Sarah Paulson), and Theo does make good on his promise to the dying man when he delivers the painting to Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), who becomes somewhat of a father-figure to the boy. Along the way he befriends a young Russian kid named Boris (Finn Wolfhard, and later Aneurin Barnard) who shares a connection with Theo but is on a completely different life-path altogether.
"The Goldfinch" is beautifully shot, which comes as no surprise, considering the cinematography was handled by 13-time Oscar-nominated Cinematographer Roger Deakins (who finally won an Oscar in 2017 for "Blade Runner 2049"). He tries to make the movie visually interesting, but its two-and-a-half hour running time renders his work futile.
The problems really spring from the film's first-half, when it centers on the young Theo. Flatly put, Oakes Fegley and Finn Wolfhard are fine young actors, but here they can't quite seem to carry the weight that the story demands. By the time things shift over to adult Theo, Ansel Elgort gives a fine performance as this broken individual shaped by his past, but at that point, it is way too late for us to care, and we're not nearly as invested as we probably should be in the characters.
With subplots involving drug-dealers and shady art-dealers, "The Goldfinch" is most assuredly more effective on the page, but on-screen, this slow-building drama never quite finds the wind beneath its wings.
Run Time: 2 hours 29 minutes.
Based on the novel by Donna Tartt.
Starring: Oakes Fegley, Finn Wolfhard, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Ansel Elgort, Luke Wilson, Aneurin Barnard.
Directed by John Crowley ("Brooklyn," "Closed Circuit").
"The Goldfinch" opens theatrically on Friday, September 13th, 2019.
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