The Goldfinch

Ansel Elgort doing his best Clark Kent impression
Verdict: 
5/10 - Despite Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman's efforts, The Goldfinch is no masterpiece.
Written by: 

The Goldfinch follows a young man who is taken in by a wealthy family after his mother is killed in a tragic bombing.

5

Merging an art world mystery with a coming-of-age tale, Donna Tartt's acclaimed 2013 novel The Goldfinch was always ripe for the big-screen treatment.

So, it's somewhat surprising that it has taken until late 2019 for John Crowley's film to reach cinemas.

Using a screenplay by Peter Straughan, the film opens with the audience meeting an adult Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort) standing in an Amsterdam apartment and scrubbing blood off of a white shirt.

A series of flashbacks ensue, with the narrative focusing on a young Theo (Oakes Fegley) trying desperately to find some sort of stability in the aftermath of his mother Audrey Decker (Hailey Wist) being killed in a tragic bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

With Theo's deadbeat father Larry (Luke Wilson) out of the picture, the 13-year-old is placed in the care of the wealthy Barbour family, who he knows via estranged school friend Andy (Ryan Foust).

Still shell-shocked by the attack and bemused by the cool behaviour of matriarch Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman), Theo takes quite some time to realise he has two objects within his possession - an engraved ring and a painting, which turns out to be The Goldfinch, one of the few remaining works by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius.

Crowley proceeds to alternate between the present day and flashbacks, with each sequence introducing some pretty complicated characters, all of whom are critical in helping Theo navigate his circumstances and, ultimately, aid him in his moral dilemma.

There's a brief encounter with Welton 'Welty' Blackwell (Robert Joy) and his niece Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings) at The Met, as well as Welty's business partner James 'Hobie' Hobart (Jeffrey Wright), an interaction with the teenager's Las Vegas-based father and his new girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson), and a growing friendship with Ukrainian emigre Boris Pavlikovsky (Finn Wolfhard).

While any further details would give too much away, Tartt's fans will be pleased to know that the narrative tracks fairly closely to her story.

 

Yet, Crowley's take is no masterpiece, and there are definitely issues with the flow of the flashbacks, with many of the scenes featuring the young Theo unnecessarily long, while the older Theo's journey is largely underdeveloped, constantly hopping from one timeframe to the next.

At times, the director also falls into the trap of having the characters tell the viewer what has happened, rather than showing them - especially in relation to what could have been a thrilling action sequence - making for some rather underwhelming moments.

Fegley does a good job at conveying young Theo's vulnerability, and one of the best scenes in the film is when Kidman's Samantha attempts to find a common ground between them via a whispery discussion of antiques. As usual, the Australian star delivers a nuanced performance.

And while Elgort tries his best with the dialogue, he somehow seems a little immature for the role, with his lack of emotion making it difficult to have sympathy for his bizarre scenario. It's also odd that Theo is rarely seen with The Goldfinch, the critical plot device and a singular source of hope for the character.

Perhaps it would have been wise to have Ukrainian actors portray Pavlikovsky too, though Wolfhard, and the older version, as played by Aneurin Barnard, offer some of the more entertaining elements of the entire 149-minute runtime.

In all, The Goldfinch offers fleeting glimpses of an intriguing premise but inevitably fails to get to grips with the heart of the story.

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