Film Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch would have been best left best as a book despite its captivating cinematography. Photo courtesy of IMPA Awards

The Goldfinch would have been best left best as a book despite its captivating cinematography.
Photo courtesy of IMPA Awards

Director John Crowley’s most recent picture, The Goldfinch, is a visually stunning yet structurally messy film. Those who enjoyed Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name will find the movie much easier to follow than those who opted to only see the film, but both groups may find themselves unsatisfied with their experience.

After 13-year-old Theodore Decker (played by Oakes Fegley as a teenager and Ansel Elgort as an adult) loses his mother in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, he is thrust into an unstable teenagerhood, being shuffled around from guardian to guardian. Through it all, he clutches to the only memento he has of the day his mother was killed, a painting of a bird caged to its post, which he stole from the wreckage of the attack.

Masterful cinematographer Roger Deakins is wildly successful in immersing the audience into Theo’s world. The extravagance of the an upscale New York flat, the quaint antique shop where Theo works, and the dusty, abandoned slums of a Las Vegas suburb all appear as though fresh from the pages of Tartt’s novel.

Although the narrative is quite choppy, told in a whirlwind of past and present, the cast is strong. Fegley is outstanding as Young Theo and gives a tear-jerking performance at times, even when Theo is at his most unlikable as a protagonist. Finn Wolfhard as Boris, Theo’s best friend (and sometimes lover), is as charming as always, stealing scenes even with his stiff Russian accent. Ashleigh Cummings is stellar, too, playing adult Pippa, another victim of the bombing whom Theo becomes infatuated with. Cummings is believable as all get out, and audiences will understand instantly why Theo is obsessed with her.

The greatest performances in the film though that aren’t featured for long are Luke Wilson as Theo’s father, Larry, and Sara Paulson as Larry’s girlfriend, Xandra. Wilson is the right amount of terrifying to make his character real, and Paulson is convincing enough to be unrecognizable. Most underutilized is Jeffrey Wright as Hobie, Theo and Pippa’s caretaker and boss who deals antiques. He seems to be set aside in favor of Oscar-Bait Nicole Kidman, who gives an endearing performance as Samantha Barbour, but viewers likely won’t care enough about her character to get her the nomination.

Altogether, The Goldfinch is a beautifully cinematized character study but is lackluster in plot and any sense of action. Some books, no matter how wonderful, were never meant to leave the page. Goldfinch is a prime example of this. Nonetheless, if you care to get swept up in Theo’s story, get a ticket. It’s only two and a half hours long.

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