Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Peter Straughan
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman
Stories translated from text to screen can lose some of its meaning as different hands involved try to shift the medium of presentation. That has happened with several great literary works and I can only hope that was the case for The Goldfinch because the story seems to be a slog and with far too much of nothing on its mind.
Working as an art dealer in New York, Theodore (Ansel Elgort) copes with the trauma of losing family on two separate occasions. Throughout the story, he looks back at his childhood and reengages with important figures of his life, which all surrounds a famous painting referenced in the title.
All of the pieces leading to the creation of this film seemed like something that would appeal to me. It’s helmed by director John Crowley, who crafted one of my favorite films of the decade in Brooklyn. The film also enlisted the services of the legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins and a cast made up of Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, and Sarah Paulson. So much talent to go around and were failed by the screenplay and the overall story, which seems maudlin and incomplete.
The story comes from a novel that has been widely praised and some revere, which I have not read. For the sake of the book, I sure hope it’s far more intriguing than what the feature film displayed. Its story feels so convoluted and leads up to a climax that offers no real payoff to the rest of the narrative. The Goldfinch tries to display a certain type of New York society that many of us may not be privy to. A world where someone can make a living selling antique items out of a store and have some semblance of success doing so if the outfits Theodore wears bears any indication. The way this story unravels left me thinking why I even care about this painting called “The Goldfinch” and how it bears any importance to the plot along with characters going to great lengths to own it.
With a runtime of 149 minutes, this film needed to be engaging and it became quite the chore to get through very quickly. It would have helped if any sort of actual tension had been manufactured, but it became unclear when the characters are meant to be afraid or sad because they’re underdeveloped. There must have been so much left out from the novel because many of the relationships in the film don’t feel realistic. Theodore has different figures in his life that mean something to him, but the story doesn’t properly explain or display why. It feels like he’s with people because that’s what the story dictates. It leaves a lot to be desired.
One major positive is the work by Roger Deakins, who uses his lighting in the film in such a spectacular way. There were times where I was bored by the narrative and just started focusing on the imagery and the way Deakins uses his trademark shadows to tell the story better than the script did. The performances were fine, but I get the feeling that Ansel Elgort was miscast for the role because he did not seem believable as to how this character was meant to be perceived.
It’s a shame that this film came together so poorly because there were high expectations leading up to its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it has subsequently crashed and burned at the box office and with critics. It committed one of the worst crimes in storytelling, it was unabashedly boring. A true bomb for those involved and perhaps another look into this story could be attempted but perhaps it’s best if it stayed on the page.