In Brief: The Goldfinch is a gold standard movie and a complex, beautifully acted film that will finish as one of my favorites of 2019.
The story is complex. Theo is 13 and with his mom at a museum. They’re standing in front of a Dutch masterpiece titled The Goldfinch. It’s her favorite. He’s impressed but is actually more impressed with the lovely red-headed girl standing in front of the picture with a man.
Theo wants to stay to allegedly to gawk at the picture but really to gawk at the girl. His mom takes off and says she’ll meet him in the gift shop. Then a terrorist sets off a bomb, and mom and a lot of other people die. Circumstances have Theo ending up with the picture.
No one knows he has it and it assumed lost in the blast. Theo keeps it hidden away for years in a backpack wrapped in newspaper. Though the film bounces a bit between past and present, the second half of the film has Theo as an adult.
Guilt over his mother’s death has haunted him all of his life and he’s a lot less innocent.
The Goldfinch is written by Peter Straughan who picked up an Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and got nominated for an Emmy for Wolf Hall, and it is directed by John Crowley who was behind the camera of Brooklyn. Both men have done excellent films and are quite skilled at storytelling.
The complexity of the characters, and the psychology of the story, and the timespan involved makes this is a tough story to tell. With so much to say, by necessity it has to drag a bit. With help from an excellent cast they manage to make it come together.
Nicole Kidman is the woman who takes the now orphaned Theo in, Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon) is Theo as a boy and Baby Driver’s Ansel Elgort takes on the character as an adult. Jeffrey Wright plays Theo’s mentor and Luke Wilson is his no-good gambling father. Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson and Finn Wolfard (TV’s Stranger Things, It and It Chapter Two) also star.
I cannot say enough positives about the acting but it is Fegley’s young Theo who is the most impressive. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue but gets most of his milage out of showing the hopelessness of being a teen living on a dead end street in the Las Vegas desert with a dead end parent and his also dead end girlfriend.
Also of note is the chemistry between Fegley and a very regal Kidman, and Fegley and Wright who play the only adults in Theo’s world that seem to get him.
Criticism of the movie has been scathing. So I am in the minority. I loved The Goldfinch. Most critics have not. The complaints range from the movie’s 2:30 length to a shallow screenplay to actors giving little depth to what should have been somewhat deep, complex characters. The screenplay criticism is understandable. Most of the time screenplays based on books are chopped up into chunks and shrunken down to the basics.
Many who read Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel — upon which the movie is based — may find it chunky. But from the reviews I’ve seen of the book and its 800 pages, it’s kinda chunky, too.
Since it picked up a Pulitzer, make that good chunky.
I agree the movie The Goldfinch is a bit chunky, and even a little clunky, but it is also a brilliantly filmed, wonderfully acted film done in a way that made me wish I’d read Tartt’s novel.
But at 800 pages and with the time heavy constraints that I, and most of you have these days, the movie seems to be the best option.
Director: John Crowley
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegly, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, Jeffrey Wright, Ryan Foust, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Ashley Cummings, Aimee Laurence, Willa Fitzgerald, Hailey Wist, Boyd Gaines
Rated R for mature themes and language. This is a very good film with deep, rich and complex characters who are — ironically — quite shallow. One of my favorites of the year. Give this a 4 out of 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.