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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "The Goldfinch" fails to make any emotional connection

Sep 12, 2019 03:21PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Jeffrey Wright and Oakes Fegley in The Goldfinch - © 2019 Warner Bros.

The Goldfinch (Warner Bros.)

Rated R for drug use and language.

Starring Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Ashleigh Cummings, Aimee Laurence, Willa Fitzgerald, Denis O'Hare, Boyd Gaines, Peter Jacobson, Luke Kleintank, Jack DiFalco, Robert Joy, Ryan Foust, Hailey Wist.

Written by Peter Straughan, based on the novel by Donna Tartt.

Directed by John Crowley.



When it comes to film adaptations of popular novels, there are some genres that work and others that are best left on the pages or inside the imaginations of the readers. The Goldfinch, based on Donna Tartt’s story of a boy, a painting and the fallout from the death of his mother is perhaps one of the latter types of books that shouldn’t have been adapted into a film.

It’s the tale of Theo (Oakes Fegley as a boy and Ansel Elgort as an adult), a young man whose mother is killed in a terrorist bombing inside an art museum. In the chaos of the rubble, Theo swipes Carel Fabritius’ famous “Goldfinch” painting and makes his way to an antique shop where he meets “Hobie” (Jeffery Wright). Theo goes to live with the family of a schoolmate and is cared for by Samantha (Nicole Kidman). Theo also connects with Pippa (Aimee Laurence as a girl and Ashleigh Cummings as an adult), the daughter of Hobie’s business partner who was also killed in the bombing. Pippa survives with a head injury and Theo becomes her best friend until his estranged father (Luke Wilson), a failed actor and alcoholic returns to reclaim the boy. Theo is forced to move to the outskirts of Las Vegas with his dad and new stepmom (Sarah Paulson). He also befriends a Ukranian boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard as a boy and Aneurin Barnard as an adult) who introduces him to drugs and other vices. When Theo’s abusive dad dies in a car crash, the boy returns to New York where Hobie takes him in and teaches him the ropes of antique dealing. Throughout the years, Theo keeps the painting secret (or so he thinks) as a connection to his mother. By the time he reaches adulthood, Theo is a sharp-looking young man who is hiding his drug addiction and other criminal behavior from the world. When the painting shows up in the criminal underworld, Theo’s life takes a sudden, drastic turn for the worse as people from his past re-emerge and he is forced to deal with the demons of his youth.

The Goldfinch is mostly boring, lacking any sort of the passion you’d expect in a drama with such deep subject matter. Elgort and Fegley are fine actors, but their role feels relegated to sleepwalking through a swamp of tragic events and bad decisions. Maybe the book clarifies Samantha’s (Kidman) role in the story, but I didn’t feel much for the character, other than she was a nice lady who fed and clothed Theo for a short while.

In fact, I didn’t feel much of anything for most of the characters, most of whom turn out to rather ordinary or downright awful people. Sadly, it seems the main character suffers the most from the film’s resolution (or lack thereof), having learned nothing, arriving at a conclusion that feels more like a dumb coincidence than any sense of closure.

The Goldfinch may be a great novel, but maybe it’s best to keep it that way instead of wasting two and a half hours of screen time in an adaptation that fails to bring its characters to life.


"The Goldfinch" Trailer