“The Goldfinch” is the film adaptation of Donna Tartt’s globally acclaimed bestseller of the same name, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and spent more than 30 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Theodore “Theo” Decker (Ansel Elgort) was 13 years old when his mother was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, and even love. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day…a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch. The Goldfinch.
What We Thought:
The Goldfinch is based on a book. Not only have I not read that book, I didn’t even know it was a book until recently. In a way that makes watching the film easier for me. I have no expectations for what characters should look like. I’m not upset my favorite character or storyline didn’t make it into the movie. A lot of early reviews that were negative compared the film to the book so basically my opinion of it is solely on the movie and nothing else.
So what did I think of the film? It’s way too long. It has a 149 minute runtime and honestly it should be at most 2 hours long. We have seen a ton of unnecessarily long movies this year and I understand with this being based on source material you want to get in as much as possible (IT: Chapter 2 did this as well), but this needed an edit badly.
It time jumps with Ansel Elgort playing the grown up version of Theo and the film flashbacks to Oakes Fegley as the teen Theo throughout the movie. It actually spends a lot more time with the 13 year old which surprised me because trailers certainly make it seem like Elgort is the star of the film. To me the story is predominantly teen Theo surviving the attack, losing his mother, moving in with Nicole Kidman’s character, moving west to live with his Dad, meeting his friend Boris and then ultimately returning to New York. You get some of Elgort’s adult character getting engaged and dealing with the painting (I won’t spoil any of that if you haven’t read the book), but most of the story seemed focused on the teen character. Maybe the book does this too, but again, haven’t read it.
The worst part of the movie being excessively long is that the story is pretty fascinating. The overall tone isn’t light, but it doesn’t make you want to scream or cut yourself either. Theo is involved in an attack and loses his mother seeing his life change in a heartbeat, but he handles it all pretty well. Sure he gets involved with drugs, but so don’t a lot of teens who go through a lot less. Everything that happens to him is understandable for the situations he finds himself in and you root for him to find some stability. Maybe it’s the performance of Fegley, but teen Theo feels like a genuine teen character despite the chaos around him. But with the movie taking forever, I found myself fading in an out of it. Despite liking the story itself and wanting to know the outcome, it takes so long getting there that I don’t know if I actually cared by film’s end.
The Goldfinch is well made and well acted. Elgort should get handed Clark Kent in any upcoming Superman plans. Fegley holds his own very well opposite the likes of Kidman, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson and Jeffrey Wright. The story is something new and interesting, but man do I wish the movie was shorter. It’s its biggest flaw. If it was 2 hours long I might have really enjoyed the movie and not just the story. The book may have won a Pulitzer, but despite its cast and story, the movie won’t be seeing any award buzz.
Director: John Crowley
Writers: Screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Donna Tartt
Producers: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Ashleigh Cummings, Willa Fitzgerald, Aimee Laurence, with Sarah Paulson, with Luke Wilson, with Jeffrey Wright, and Nicole Kidman, Denis O’Hare, Boyd Gaines, Peter Jacobson, Luke Kleintank, Robert Joy