Beautiful but Complicated
Adapted from the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by author Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch was directed by John Crowley (2015 Oscar®-nominated film Brooklyn ). It was a daunting task for screenwriter Peter Straughan to adapt this more than 700 page, finely-detailed book into a cinematic experience. Some critics have already said he may have missed, but others don’t agree. After all, the film is a motion picture, and the book is a printed piece of literature, and the two are not the same. Nor should they be.
While attending the art museum with his mother, Theodore Decker escapes a terrorist explosion which kills his parent. In the confusion and debris of the explosion, the boy is given a signet ring by a dying art dealer and encouraged to steal the Goldfinch painting, which lies in the rubble. The boy is played by a terrific little actor named Oakes Fegley,14, a veteran of TV’s “Person of Interest” and “Boardwalk Empire” as well as Disney’s Pete’s Dragon movie.( Fegley was born November 11, 2004 in Pennsylvania.) He ends up an orphan who is taken in by a schoolfriend’s family, headed by Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Barbour). Kidman at first is beautiful and phosphorescent, but ages as time goes by and ends up with a gray fright wig and prosthetically-wrinkled neck like a choked turkey.
Theo’s errant dad (a smarmy Luke Wilson) turns up to take the boy out to the wilds of Las Vegas. Dad’s floozie girlfriend, played with exuberance by a spot-on, bottle blonde Sarah Paulson (playing against type) feels Theo is in the way. Theo hooks up with a mad Russian boy named Boris who towers over him. He reminds us of a Baby Bela Lugosi with wild curly hair and black funereal clothes. He’s played flamboyantly by teen TV star Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things. Boris teaches Theo all the bad things boys do together, and that includes indulging in illicit drugs and pot smoking. Boris also introduces a little gender-bending during a passionate kiss Theo didn’t see coming.
Voila! The passage of time finds that Theo grows into the handsome young man in the shape of actor Ansel Elgort. He has been taken under the wing of prominent art dealer and furniture maker Hobie, played convincingly by New York actor Jeffrey Wright (Tony Award, Emmy, and Golden Globe winner as Belize in the Broadway and HBO mini-series “Angels in America”). Theo is supposed to be a sophisticated art dealer, but he looks so young and bucolic in what appears to be his father’s old suit and a pair of dime-store glasses. Still, he has that face girls will die for and gladly give up their inheritance.
The plot seems hopelessly convoluted and complicated. Boris (Aneurin Barnard) resurfaces as an adult and as a sort of savior to Theodore. He’s all grown up but is now two feet shorter than Theo and appears to be standing at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Boris gets Theo involved in some pistol-whipping with drug dealers and nefarious shady characters on a trip to Amsterdam in an attempt to save the infamous painting. Don’t ask. Read the book!
With a highly atmospheric story, cinematographer Roger Deakins (nominated fourteen times for the Oscar®, he won the Academy Award® for Blade Runner 2049 in 2018), has once again exquisitely painted gorgeous cinematic pictures with his camera. He has a painter’s eye, and frames each scene as if it is a canvas as carefully done by Rembrandt or Van Gogh. With the subject of the film the delicate painting of a lovely little bird by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, Deakins shows reverence for the beautiful artwork with his magical color camera. Just seeing Deakins’ work is worth the price of admission.
Our opinion is that the film is not as bad as some of the foreign critics have belly-ached about. There are many good elements as well as some scenes directed with a lead foot by John Crowley. A few scenes may put you into an irreversible stupor. But don’t take my word for it. See the movie for yourself -- and wonder why I am a film critic.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “R” for drug use and language.)