Oakes Fegley in The Goldfinch (Photo: Warner)
(SUMMER MOVIE WRAP 2019: Best Film, Biggest Disappointment, Top Moneymakers, Worst Remake, and more! For a look at the highlights and low points of the cinema season, go here.)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY John Crowley
STARS Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley
Despite winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hardly proved to be a slam dunk among literary critics, with many praising it as excellent and almost as many slamming it as execrable. The makers of the film version of The Goldfinch, on the other hand, probably would be happy with such a mixed reception, since their celluloid offering has been savagely eviscerated ever since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month. With Brooklyn director John Crowley behind the camera and an impressive cast assembled in front of it, the film seemed ready-made for rapturous praise; instead, it’s receiving the sort of brutal reviews that would give even Adam Sandler pause.
The protagonist is Theodore Decker, whose mother is killed by a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a survivor of the bombing, the young Theo is racked by guilt — not only because he feels it’s his fault his mother died but also because he lifted Carel Fabritius’ 1654 painting The Goldfinch from the rubble and kept it in his possession well into his adult years. The film moves easily between following Theo as an orphaned boy (played by Oakes Fegley) , when he first lives with a wealthy family in New York (Nicole Kidman plays Mom) and then with his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) in Las Vegas, and tracking him as a young man (portrayed by Ansel Elgort), when he grows up under the tutelage of antique dealer James Hobart (Jeffrey Wright) but is still haunted by secrets from his past.
The thorough critical destruction is perplexing, since the film is for the most part intelligent, involving, handsomely mounted (the d.p is Blade Runner 2049 maestro Roger Deakins), and quite faithful to the source material. The first 90 minutes of this 150-minute movie are packed with meaty material, and Oakes is excellent as the young Theo. Elgort is likewise noteworthy as the older incarnation of the character, although his interludes aren’t quite as riveting.
In fact, it’s during the final hour, when the focus shifts more toward the older Theo, that the movie finally implodes. A story that had been measured and methodical suddenly spins out of control, relying on unbelievable coincidences and farfetched scenarios to bring it home. Then again, all of this was also in the novel, so what can you do?