Written by Michael Frank
Every few years, a book comes along that everyone reads. Every book club picks it as a must-do, and it becomes a cultural capstone. Books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Road become shoe-ins to be adapted into films. One of these books was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
The book nears 800 pages, winning the Pulitzer Prize and several other “Book of the Year” awards across publications and organizations. It polarized critics and audiences alike, becoming a source of dinner table conversation in the end of 2013 and through 2014. With a book of that magnitude, there are sure to be aspects that need to be cut down or even completely nixed for the film adaptation. Peter Straughan took the task of writing the script, and John Crowley wrestled with directing that manuscript.
The result? A bit of a jumble. Though the performances range from committed to some mail-ins, well-known actors abound in Crowley’s film. The film jumps back and forth between the childhood (Oakes Fegley) and adult life (Ansel Elgort) of Theo Decker, a man who witnessed the tragic death of his mother early in life and then preceded to steal the famous painting depicting the goldfinch. During the story, we witness abuse by his father, lots of drug usage with his Russian friend Boris, and a couple love interests.
There is no heart in The Goldfinch. The background given on these characters feels weightless, without rhyme or reason, leading to a lack of interest in whether they succeed or in most cases, whether they fail. The film lacks excitement and any necessity, existing as a beautiful piece of filmmaking without any reason to keep watching. Elgort gives a worthwhile performance and the child actors contribute heavily to the film’s watchability. Nicole Kidman’s role as foster mother and Jeffrey Wight’s performance as stand-in father are too small to make an impact, and even Luke Wilson comes off as a waste of talent.
Roger Deakins continues his run of form, contributing to masterful cinematography of an impressively looking film. The script mucks up the story, though, not giving the characters room to breathe or interact with one another on a more in-depth scale. The conversations are unremarkable, and as the movie ends, you forget what actually happened. This doesn’t mean that the film is awful by any means, but rather it is void of excellence and must-see moments.
In terms of special features, The Goldfinch Blu-ray surprises with lots of interesting options. A short behind-the-scenes doc called The Goldfinch Unbound explores the script versus the book, with many of the actors talking about their love for the novel. It explores the casting of each character as well, which certainly deserves a watch. The short The Real Goldfinch looks into the painting itself, with all its mystery and history. To top it off, some deleted scenes are thrown in the mix, including a young Theo visiting a therapist, family time with the Barbours, the introduction of novel-related characters, and more time with Pippa.
All of these added features give you an extra incentive to explore the painting and the novel, but fail to enhance the movie by more than a hair. The film stays as a beautiful but messy underachievement of the book that deserved more assured direction.