The Goldfinch - Movie Review

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.(amazonstudios)
Updated: Sep. 18, 2019 at 4:41 AM EDT
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Many good books make good, even great movies: Gone with the Wind, Ordinary People, The Godfather, From Here to Eternity; but not all great books make good movies. That is the particular case with The Goldfinch which won the Pulitzer Prize for its author Donna Tartt. Admittedly I haven’t read the book so I cannot attest to its greatness, but I have seen the movie, and can say confidently that it isn’t a good movie. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, but it just sits there; it languishes. It’s beautiful to look at and the score is gorgeous but it is remarkably uninvolving despite its very busy plot. What is even more astonishing is the tepid empathy we have for the main character Theo Decker (played in his youth by Oakes Fegley and as a young adult by Ansel Elgort). Someone that endures this much tragedy and hardship should move us, but the distance between Theo and the audience often feels vast. However, I am not sure if it is the actors’ fault, the writer’s fault or the director’s fault.

When Theo suddenly becomes an orphan as a result of a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum that kills his mother, he goes to live temporarily with a very wealthy Park Avenue family, the Barbours, (Nicole Kidman and Boyd Gaines) whose son, Andy (smartly played by Ryan Foust) is his only friend in private school. When his neer-do well alcoholic, estranged father Larry (Luke Wilson) and his bar hopping, sexy party girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) show up in New York City to claim him, Theo’s journey takes one of its many unexpected turns. By the way, Paulson is vying for the Tilda Swinton chameleon versatility award; compare this performance with her brilliant Emmy Winning turn as Marcia Clark.

My favorite performance in the film is by Jeffrey Wright, who never seems to get the Kudos he deserves. He plays Hobie, a partner/owner of an antique shop, in Greenwich Village who becomes a father figure and mentor to Theo. He is terrific and adds much needed authenticity and depth to the proceedings. His partner, Welty Blackwell (Robert Joy), who was also at the museum that fateful day tells Theo to take the Goldfinch, or at a least Theo thinks he tells him that. This is how the titular painting (yes the Goldfinch is a painting) gets in Theo’s hands and its possession becomes key to the plot – or is supposed to.

The best part of the movie (and it is longish) is somewhere in the middle of the second act. While living in a deserted cookie cutter housing tract on the way outside of Las Vegas, Young Theo befriends fellow outcast and abused Russian expiate, Young Boris, played very well by actor Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things). Here the film has life as they experiment with drugs, valiantly struggle with horrible parents (why are the fathers so one dimensional) and generally bond. This is also the part of the film, where Theo’s innate wound – the grief over the loss of his mother – is most prescient and palpable. It feels remarkably absent or superficial throughout so much of the film, yet you sense it was a huge part of the novel, and the basis for the primary metaphor (the painting).

In the third act, the film suddenly becomes a thriller, or tries to. Yet, it is by far the least credible and most muddled part of the film-it’s very messy. The novel was over 700 pages and I suspect plot points that seem jarring and blunt in the film were more deftly handled in the novel. For example: Adult Theo’s completely unbelievable engagement to Adult Kitsey Barbour (Willa Fitzgerald) – Kitsey? That name doesn’t help matters. How about those “guess who I ran into” – insert character from act one or two that is needed for the plot – in act three. Because you know, New York City is so small you often bump into people on the street. Forget the muddled climax, and the director’s inability to show events lucidly so we know what the hell really happened to the Goldfinch painting. I am asking myself the same thing about this prestige project by Amazon Studios and Warner Brothers – what the hell happened?

Skip it.

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