The Goldfinch

John Crowley's ponderous and pretentious take on Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winner only comes alive in the briefest of spells

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 27 Sep 2019
  • The Goldfinch
Film title: The Goldfinch
Director: John Crowley
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, Ashleigh Cummings, Willa Fitzgerald, Denis O'Hare, Boyd Gaines
Release date: 27 Sep
Certificate: 15

You know the phrase, “less is more”? The experience of watching this movie version of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is the inverse. Writer Peter Straughan crowbars in every significant character and plot point from Tartt’s 770-page Pulitzer Prize-winner and director John Crowley fails miserably to turn the overstuffed script into something remotely compelling.

It’s telling that Straughan and Crowley's first instinct has been to chop up the narrative, turning Tartt’s lucid prose and direct storytelling into something more abstract and emotionally muddy. This messy structure also has the consequence of moving the tragic occurrence that begins the book to the movie’s second half, meaning anyone who hasn’t read the novel will be left in the dark as to why 13-year-old Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) is both deeply alienated from his surroundings, and in the possession of the Dutch masterpiece of the title.

Besides the audience, the biggest loser in this higgledy-piggledy approach to narrative is Ansel Elgort. So appealing as the title character of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, all his onscreen charm and charisma seems to desert him in his role as the 20-something Theo. His juicy story involves a terrorist attack, furniture forgery, pining for a chilly young woman named Pippa, being cheated on by his fiancee, drug addiction and an art heist in a glamorous European city. Oh, and he’s also being blackmailed. Unfortunately, these scenes rush past in episodic chunks or unfurl in boring montage and explanatory voiceover, making it hard to care about any of his myriad dramas.

Better served is Fegley. The most involving patch of the film (and the book) sees a young Theo whisked off from his life in New York to an uninhabited boondoggle housing project outside of Las Vegas to live with his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) and his trashy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson). For about 30 minutes Crowley’s bitty style dissipates, and suddenly this inert film has a pulse. Fegley convinces as a preppy city kid left to fend for himself in suburbia with only Ukrainian rapscallion Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a fellow latch-key kid who's basically been abandoned, for company. Wolfhard’s accent is as phoney as the rest of the film, but his performance is vibrant. Boris proves to be the perfect distraction for Theo, introducing him to alcohol, shoplifting, trashy movies, LSD and possibly his first kiss. In other words, Boris lets Theo feel alive for a spell. Wolfhard does the same for the movie.

Released by Warner Bros