Review: ‘The Goldfinch’ lacks polish

Review: ‘The Goldfinch’ lacks polish
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Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort in 'The Goldfinch.' (Image supplied)
Review: ‘The Goldfinch’ lacks polish
2 / 2
Ansel Elgort and Jeffrey Wright in 'The Goldfinch.' (Image supplied)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Review: ‘The Goldfinch’ lacks polish

Review: ‘The Goldfinch’ lacks polish
  • Star-studded literary adaptation has plenty of style, but not enough substance

LONDON: There’s always an element of risk in adapting beloved literary works. So director John Crowley at least deserves credit for being brave enough to take on a big-screen version of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning 2014 novel “The Goldfinch,” which topped the “New York Times” bestseller list for more than 30 weeks.

With an exciting ensemble cast including Ansel Elgort, Jeffrey Wright, Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson, it seemed the Irish director had all the ingredients needed to breathe cinematic life into Tartt’s coming-of-age opus.

Sadly, though, this adaptation of “The Goldfinch” is a muddled, meandering movie that repeatedly loses all sense of momentum thanks to its ill-timed chronological jumps. The story’s central character, Theo Decker (played as an adult by Elgort and as a teenager by Oakes Fegley) survives the terrorist bombing of an art gallery in which his mother is killed and, with his father having abandoned him when he was younger, the 13-year-old finds a home with the family of one of his school friends. The film chart’s Theo’s life growing up in New York, a spell with his alcoholic dad in Las Vegas, and his subsequent return to the Big Apple — all while, as it transpires, he keeps secret the fact that he swiped the titular painting during the aftermath of the explosion.

Leapfrogging between Theo’s adult and teenage years means his past (including his motivation for pocketing the work of art) is doled out in bite-size amounts and, in theory, reinforces his status as an unreliable narrator. It also makes the film more discombobulating, as developed plot threads and slowly established characterizations are sundered by sudden jumps backwards and forwards. The cast does its best — Wright as Theo’s mentor and business partner brings a quiet vulnerability to his role, Kidman is sufficiently doting as Theo’s almost-foster mother and Elgort revels in Theo’s damaged adulthood — but “The Goldfinch” dawdles too long in some places and roars ahead unwisely in others.

On the plus side, the film looks stunning, with shots expertly framed with precision worthy of the antique scene that’s portrayed. But with such a disconcerting tendency to unnecessarily confound, it makes for a movie that’s tough to settle into.