The Goldfinch Movie Review

Just because something works in one medium doesn’t mean it automatically will in another. A great example of this would be converting a Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a two and a half hour feature film; you simply cannot mimic the depth allowed by hundreds of pages in a book. Such is the case with John Crowley’s “The Goldfinch”. 

The title of the book and movie refers to a painting that was on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art on the day that Theo Decker’s life changed forever. Theo (Oakes Fegley) was there with his mother when a terrorist set off a bomb. 

The bombing killed Theo’s mother and several others, leaving nothing but rubble and miraculously, The Goldfinch painting still intact. Theo awoke after the explosions and took the painting, something that had survived for centuries, handed down over generations. However, it now looks like the painting could get lost in the grief spiral that Theo is about to enter over the next two decades of his life.

With his mother dead and his father gone, young Theo becomes a part of two worlds — that of an upper-class family that takes him in, led by a sophisticated mother (Nicole Kidman), and the antiques shop run by Hobie (Jeffrey Wright). During his time at the antiques shop, Theo befriends a young girl named Pippa (Aimée Lawrence) who was also traumatized by the events of the bombing. 

Each actor plays their role with a certain passion that is easily appreciated in a film. Kidman’s poised, proper, yet compassionate character is absolutely stunning while Wright’s friendly and level-headed figure is refreshing to experience, especially after how many people betray Theo throughout his life. 

Just as Theo is beginning to settle into his new life with the Barbours, he is forced to relocate to Las Vegas. There, he meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Ukrainian immigrant whom Theo quickly develops a close bond with. Boris, who had also lost his mother, introduces Theo to drugs and alcohol. 

By far, Boris is the most well-developed and hilarious character in this film. Between his heavy accent and his knack for vodka, cocaine and cigarettes, Wolfhard’s character represents those of us who are not always sure who we are and are convinced that we can only be one thing. However, he also provides hope, reminding us that all people have the capability to become better and redeem ourselves.

When looking at this film as a critic, the main problem is that it diminishes almost all of the character traits from a book that’s dense with complex characters. Over nearly 800 pages and told in first-person, the book has the freedom to get readers into the development of Theodore Decker in ways that are simply impossible to replicate on film. 

After a two-month casting search, Ansel Elgort was selected to portray the lead role of adult Theodore “Theo” Decker, following his breakout turn in “Baby Driver”. According to Elgort, the role was certainly not handed to him on a silver platter. 

Learning that as Theo, he would be holding carrying a lot of weight and trauma, the “Baby Driver” star spent a lot of time by himself in Amsterdam. He spent days alone wandering the streets in the cold, speaking to no one in order to feel the isolation and disconnection Theo felt while he was there. 

While Fegley does an exceptional job portraying the awkward, discouraged and sometimes giddy attitude of a young Theo, Elgort perhaps demonstrates disconnection a bit too well. He is unable to fully capture the extent of the older Theo’s depression and frustrations. His overall performance seemed to be dry and lacking.

“The Goldfinch” does still boast some memorable performances: Sarah Paulson as the chain-smoking girlfriend of Theo’s actor-turned-gambler dad and Finn Wolfhard as Theo’s bad-influence best friend.

The many awkward transitions throughout the film are another factor that makes “The Goldfinch” somewhat of a confusing and difficult film to appreciate. As soon as we begin to understand and look into the mind of the young troubled Theo, the film switches the storytelling perspective to that of the older Theo, revealing that the previous scene was merely a flashback. This happen a handful of times throughout the films and proves to be an annoying way to properly tell the full story of Theo’s life and the changes he goes through, as it leaves many unanswered questions regarding his life and relationships throughout the movie. 

Not only does this film inaccurately squeeze an entire novel into a two and a half hour time frame, it also becomes painfully repetitive. After the first two-thirds of the movie, the whole plot just seems like a blur of Theo visiting the antique shop or Theo doing drugs with Boris over and over again until you almost lose sight of what the actual message of the film is: the idea that random events, even tragedies, shape us into people we wouldn’t otherwise be.

There’s a subplot in which Theo learns about cobbling together broken antiques to make them look new again. They aren’t original antiques, and Hobie warns him not to sell them as such. They’re fake, produced by machines from spare parts and lacking the human touch of the real thing. If a film ever had a better in-story symbol of its own failing, I can’t think of it.