The Goldfinch is a mess, in spite of great cast

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The Goldfinch has not been received as well as its award-winning source material.

Griffin Sendek | Photography Editor

09/18/19

Never before have I witnessed a film so desperately try to be meaningful only to result in something vapid and astonishingly empty.

The Goldfinch, directed by John Crowley, is a film adaptation of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name that tells the fictional story of a young Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) whose life profoundly changes after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and within the heat of the moment, he steals the priceless artwork aptly titled The Goldfinch.

The story is told non-linearly transitioning back-and-forth between Fegley and Theo’s adult self, played by Ansel Elgort.

Unfortunately, The Goldfinch is yet another example of a loss in translation from book to screen.

The original novel’s whopping 771 pages did no favors to ease the adaptation, resulting in a bulbous two hour 20-minute run time. Watching The Goldfinch all the way through feels like a journey that will never end. When the credits finally roll across the screen it is cause for celebration; not due to wonderment caused by a moving piece of cinema, but rather for the fact that it is now time to leave.

Attempting to describe the plot of The Goldfinch is a lesson in frustration because there is hardly any narrative throughline or thematic consistency. The story can be best described as a series of subplots continuously piled on one another.

Having multiple subplots in a film is not always a bad thing. It has been done very well in many instances. For the case of The Goldfinch, the central plot of Theo and the painting hardly takes priority over the others, and new subplots are constantly introduced without resolving any of the previous.

This form of storytelling might have worked well within a book format, broken up into clearly defined chapters, but on screen, it creates a muddled film with a highly inconsistent tone.

The Goldfinch appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis, unable to decide what it wants to be or even keep to the confines of a single genre. This film is a tale of loss and redemption, a romance, a coming-of-age story, and in the final moments morphing into an action-thriller. Choosing any one of these story conventions and running with it might have produced a work with more coherency but as is, The Goldfinch is an ununified mess.

Watching The Goldfinch has one questioning what it is really trying to say.

The Goldfinch is an illustration of how good performances from award-winning actors are unable to save a deeply flawed film. Giving credit where credit is due, everyone in this film does an impeccable job.

Nicole Kidman does a marvelous job as Mrs. Barbour, leaving by far the biggest lasting impression upon exiting the theater. Jeffery Wright plays his character to absolute perfection and Sarah Paulson gives it her all. Both Fegley and Elgort help drive the story forward, although Elgort’s performance is the slightly more forgettable of the two.

Who really steals the show, however, is Finn Wolfhard, who plays  Boris. Not that his acting is necessarily anything groundbreaking, but rather that his character provides some comedic relief, pumping some much-needed life back into the film.

This film has glimmers of hope throughout. The Goldfinch is full of scenes that are beautifully shot and composed. The scenes in the MET where the bombing occurs are elegantly shot and masterfully done. Crowley knows when to let certain moments slow down and breathe.

The production design is top-notch, the attention to detail is utterly insane. For those who do wind up watching The Goldfinch, look closely at backgrounds. The production and set design do so much for telling the story and establishing who the characters are, yet is done so successfully, it goes by almost completely unnoticed.

The seeds of a great film are buried deep within The Goldfinch, which is why it is so disappointing it developed into such an awful viewing experience. It makes me sad knowing that everything special about this film is bogged down by a myriad of other issues, and it will likely only be remembered for those.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and despite its bright spots, The Goldfinch is an overly long confusing slog of multiple subplots without a consistent message or story to tell. At the end of the day, The Goldfinch is just plain boring and does not deserve your time.

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