The Goldfinch


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Goldfinch
"The story moves like treacle, with the action bogged down and emotions bottled up." | Photo: Warner Bros

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch picked up a Pulitzer back in 2014, but it's highly unlikely that this airless adaptation by Peter Straughan - directed by John Crowley - will be garnering equivalent awards in the film world.

Taking place across multiple time periods and presented in a fragmentary manner that makes things confusing rather than suspenseful, the story concerns Theo Decker (played as an adult by Ansel Elgort and as a child by the much more expressive Oakes Fegley) who, as a 13-year-old, loses his mother in a gallery terror attack. The event, and what happens in the immediate wake of the atrocity, will go on to shape the youngster's life, which we come into just as he is contemplating taking leave of it in an Amsterdam bedroom that bears suspicious signs of another crime.

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We flash back and forward as Theo is taken in by the upper class Barbour family - with Nicole Kidman playing the matriarch with a frosty veneer - before,  later, finding himself scooped up by his drunk and gambling addicted father (Luke Wilson) and transported to the outskirts of Vegas. Before Theo leaves town, however, he has time to found a bond with a little girl (Aimee Laurence morphing into Ashleigh Cummings in later years) who was also at the scene of the blast courtesy of her grandfather, who gives Theo a ring with a link to an antique shop run by his former partner Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and who, crucially, also encourages him to steal The Goldfinch painting of the film's title.

If all that sounds complicated, it is - and little attempt seems to have been made to streamline anything, much to the film's detriment. Crowley showed such care with emotion and setting in his previous film, Brooklyn - another complex story - that it's a surprise that he wasn't able to stop the action here from sprawling. The cast don't help. Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, as Theo's young friend Boris, is hampered with a cod Ukranian accent - hard to believe, not least because his character seems to have been on the move since young childhood and would surely have lost any trace of it, and, it proves, hard to maintain - while Anueurin Barnard's adult version of the same character fares little better.

Despite so much happening - with Theo also suffering addiction issues and unfortunate affairs of the heart - the story also moves like treacle, with the action bogged down and emotions bottled up. The end result is as flat as the canvas The Goldfinch is painted on.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2019
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The Goldfinch packshot
A boy steals a painting in the wake of a terror attack, a decision that will go on to shape his life.
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Director: John Crowley

Writer: Peter Straughan, adapted from the novel by Donna Tartt

Starring: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Willa Fitzgerald, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Ashleigh Cummings, Aimee Laurence, Robert Joy, Boyd Gaines, Carly Connors, Luke Kleintank

Year: 2019

Runtime: 149 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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