The Goldfinch is a classic example of the challenge in condensing an epic, sprawling novel into a single two and a half-hour film. Here the book’s complexity fails to translate spectacularly, creating a frustrating, disappointing and disjointed movie mess. Following a terrorist explosion at an art gallery, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) walks silently among the dust, rubble and bodies, where he helps a dying man whose daughter is still alive. The dying man entrusts a ring to Theo’s care, asking him to return it to an address in the city. As young Theo agrees, he notices the painting of The Goldfinch, which he and his mother had been viewing minutes before the disaster lying in the dust and impulsively takes it.
Following the disaster, Theo is taken in by his close friend’s mother (Nicole Kidman). Still, he remains haunted by his mother’s death despite the Barbour family’s wealth and security. Meanwhile, his stolen treasure is kept wrapped and hidden under his bed.
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On returning the ring given to him by the dying man, Theo builds a relationship with the business partner of the deceased man, an antique dealer named Hobie (Jeffrey Wright). Hobie takes Theo under his wing and teaches him about the antiques he cares for, becoming a father figure of sorts, while Theo develops a friendship with the man’s young daughter.
However, Theo’s life is further confused with the arrival of his money-grabbing and alcoholic father (Luke Wilson), who whisks him from the comfort of the city to a remote and run-down estate on the edge of Las Vegas. His father intends to use Theo and his mother’s money to further his gambling addiction, and it’s here that Theo meets a fellow outsider from Ukraine named Boris (Finn Wolfhard). The boys develop a close friendship; however, after his father’s death, Theo runs back to the city, finding a home in Hobie’s antique shop.
Adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) hides behind a veneer of affluence, his drug-taking and vulnerability hidden from public view. Meanwhile, the priceless painting remains hidden from general knowledge. However, on a chance encounter with his old friend Boris (Aneurin Barnard) in a city bar, the secret of the painting is revealed.
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Now, if you feel confused given that synopsis, just wait till you watch the film! The first act of The Goldfinch is a painful mess with a haphazard storyboard that jumps violently from one scene to the next. Here John Crowley’s direction is almost non-existent. But by the second act, The Goldfinch finds a more stable footing in the relationship between Theo and Boris, and it’s here where the movie finds a brief yet engaging voice. It is, therefore, a pity that this promise is railroaded in the third act, which is inconsistent, confused and damn right frustrating to watch. That does not mean there isn’t beauty in Crowley’s film, with Roger Deakins’ sublime cinematography lighting up an otherwise miserable cinemagoing experience.
As to what was going on inside Crowley’s head during the shoot, who knows, and, to be frank, who cares! I just couldn’t wait to get out of the cinema and stretch my legs after what had felt like an eternity sitting on my arse.
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman
United States 2019