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The Goldfinch (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

The Goldfinch


Starring Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Ashleigh Cummings, Aimee Laurence, Willa Fitzgerald, Carly Connors, Denis O’Hare, Boyd Gaines, Peter Jacobson, Luke Kleintank, Jack DiFalco, Austin Weyant, Collin Shea Schirrmacher, Robert Joy, Ryan Foust, Joey Slotnick and Hailey Wist.

Screenplay by Peter Straughan.

Directed by John Crowley.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 149 minutes. Rated R.

Going into the film version of Donna Tartt’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch as a big fan of the book, I had to wonder if it would be possible to make into a stand-alone movie. After all, the book was nearly 800 pages long – how can they fit all that into a two-and-a-half-hour-long movie?

They can’t. There is a lot of stuff in the book that is ignored by the movie. Perhaps it would have worked better as a limited run television or streaming event.

That said, The Goldfinch does as well as you could possibly expect. While it loses some shading and characterization, the movie does do a surprisingly decent job of capturing most of the important plot points of the book. It’s certainly not as deep or immersive an experience as the novel, but just taken on its own merits as a movie, The Goldfinch is pretty damned good.

The Goldfinch is a lot of things – a dysfunctional family drama, a crime story, an unrequited love story, a tale of friendship, an appreciation of art and craftmanship – but mostly it is a meditation on mourning and surviving tragedy.

Theo Decker (played by Ansel Elgort as a young man, and Oakes Fegley as a boy) was 13 years old when he and his mother were caught in a terrorist bomb attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Because he saw a girl that he thought was cute, he allowed his mother to walk off alone. His mother was killed. He survived.

In the rubble, the girl’s grandfather, who was dying, told him to take a small painting of a bird which had been blown off of the wall. The grandfather also gave him a ring to take to his business partner in the Village.

For decades, Theo felt guilt, both for allowing his mother to get killed and also for having the painting, which turned out to be a priceless old masterpiece. As an essential orphan, Theo ends up splitting his life between a rich friend’s family, the man’s business partner’s antiques store and eventually with his deadbeat dad and his trashy girlfriend.

With the rich family. he finds security and some chilly, but sincere love. With the partner, he learns a craft and an appreciation of fine furniture and art – plus he gets to spend time with the girl who attracted him at the museum. Even on the empty Vegas cul de sac where he lives with his father, he makes a good friend and also gains some bad habits as far as drinking and drugs.

It’s a complicated story, fascinating in its many levels, even though the movie downplays a lot of the more extreme scenes.

It’s no great surprise that the film version of The Goldfinch is not as satisfying as the book. However, it does a pretty impressive job of taking the story from one medium to another. And if the movie inspires more people to go back and read the book, all the better.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: September 13, 2019.

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