Dir: John Crowley
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Wilson, and Sarah Paulson
The first major art exhibit I attended featured the landscape and floral works of Georgia O’Keeffe. As I strolled through the collection of beautiful artworks listening to experts and enthusiasts discuss aspects of form, space, and contrast, an older couple wandering in front of me asked an interesting question to one of museum curators… “how many people have tried to steal something off the wall?”. The curator responded, “more than you’d think”.
Author Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Goldfinch” centers on a stolen piece of art, the real Carel Fabritius painting of a chained goldfinch bird on a perch, and a young boy named Theo who grows up keeping a secret about the famed piece of art. It’s a sprawling story featuring numerous plot themes ranging from terrorism, antique collecting, and drug abuse that spans the tragic childhood and tormented adulthood of Theo.
Director John Crowley organizes an exceptional group of talented actors in an earnest attempt to bring this expansive story to life. The result is a confounding adaptation that struggles to fit all the plot pieces and subtle character developments from the book into a nicely packaged cinematic experience.
Theo (Oakes Fegley) is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother when a bomb explodes, killing his mother and destroying the museum in the process. Theo is placed with an upper-class foster family in the Upper East Side, nurtured and helped through the traumatic experience by Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), and then transfers to Nevada and into the care of his neglecting father (Luke Wilson). Theo (Ansel Elgort), now a young adult, works in the antique community with his mentor Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) selling modified antique furniture. But Theo has been keeping a secret since the day that changed his life, a stolen art piece that he took from the rubble of the museum.
For a film that centers on a bomb explosion and the theft of a piece of art, you would think the plot would be a fairly straight-forward thriller, possibly a whodunit mystery. “The Goldfinch” never commits to these simplistic ideas, instead it remains somewhat plotless throughout the course of the film while it focuses on Theo and his absolutely terrible journey through life. The theme of love and loss is present throughout, the feeling of loneliness and dependency is felt in numerous places. All of these pieces are present but somehow missing the emotional mark or rushed into and out of scenes for the sake of narrative progression.
The best concept involves the theme of family which permeates every interaction that Theo has with the world. The death of his mother leads Theo to search for that special connection with someone, anyone who will have him or is around him. It’s tragic watching the young character have numerous people ripped from his life, seemingly while he is on verge of making an emotional connection with someone.
Ansel Elgort does a nice job of composing older Theo with a charm just thick enough to hide the broken parts of his character. Nicole Kidman is the highlight in the film however, displaying a refined yet somewhat cold motherly demeanor. In her quiet moments, when she is watching Theo interact with other kids, is when Ms. Kidman shines bright.
“The Goldfinch” feels like the quick highlights from the novel bundled together in a film adaptation with talented actors and beautifully composed photography. It’s the equivalent of the cliff notes for a story, enough information so that you can talk about it without the deeper substance to make it as memorable as it should be.
3.00 out of 5.00