This film is one that I didn’t really have any expectations for. I hadn’t read the book it was based on and I haven’t seen any of the previous films of director John Crowley. I have seen films written by the same person who wrote this film, but considering the last film he wrote was The Snowman my expectations were tempered. Watching the film, I can understand how the story became so acclaimed and popular, but it doesn’t work in the context of a film.
The film focuses on Theo Decker, who survives a bombing at MOMA when he’s 13 years old. Whilst he survives the bombing he ends up taking the painting The Goldfinch with him, along with agreeing to give a ring from a dying man to his business partner, Hobie. After the bombing, Theo stays with the family of a friend of his for a while, along with getting close with Hobie and Pippa, the niece of the person Theo saw die, with his interactions with Hobie also allowing Theo to gain knowledge of antique dealing. However, his life is disrupted when his dad returns and takes him to Vegas where he ends up meeting Boris, a Ukrainian he ends up forming a friendship with. After events in Vegas go bad, Theo returns to New York and becomes an antique dealer, however The Goldfinch always hangs around his mind. Now this is a prime example of where something that works on page doesn’t work on screen. Whilst I haven’t read the book, the film is paced like a book with the constant raised plot elements and large cast of characters, along with the two timelines the film takes place over. In and of itself, this is not a bad thing, but it does mean that the pacing felt off to me, with the film moving at a snails pace for the first half, whilst what should have been a scene given more time was rushed through. This pacing also means that a lot of the characters don’t feel as developed as they should be, as though the character development scenes from the book were cut out to get the main plot scenes covered. As such, I didn’t really feel a connection with any of the characters which in turn made me feel bored for most of the film.
The performances are solid for the most part. Ansel Elgort and Oakes Fegley do a good job playing Theo and I do have to praise the decision to cast these two as the same character as it is believable that Fegley is a young Elgort. Jeffrey Wright, Aneurin Barnard and Nicole Kidman do good work, even if their characters do feel a bit light as written. Willa Fitzgerald and Ashleigh Cummings as Theo’s love interests meanwhile suffer the most from being underdeveloped, their characters being completely one-dimensional, although they try their best with the material. However, the performances of Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson and Finn Wolfhard really don’t work. Whilst Wilson and Paulson are fine, the issue being a tonal one with their characters not fitting the tone the film sets before they arrive, Wolfhard is the only one I’d say gave a legitimately bad performance, his accent is awful and I found his whole performance irritating, making what should be more lighthearted scenes aggravating to me.
The technical side of the film I found to be fairly bland. The direction, music and costume design are all okay for a film of this type but nothing special. The cinematography meanwhile I found to be a bit of a mixed bag personally which baffled me once I saw in the credits that the DP was Roger Deakins. Most of the cinematography is fairly bland, although the cinematography in the Vegas scenes is good, highlighting the isolation of the characters and having some good colour grading which matched the colour style of The Goldfinch.
Overall, all of the elements are there in The Goldfinch for it to be a good film, but this is a case where the whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. It feels like the process of adaptation meant that important moments to develop the characters had to be cut out to make way for moments to further the plot, to allow the plot to fit into the runtime of a 2 and a half hour long film, but this means that the characters are fairly bland and the tone and pacing just felt off. I ended up being bored throughout the whole film. This is a case where the book may have been so dense that it would never have worked in this format.
My Rating: 2/5