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Review: The Goldfinch (2019)

The Goldfinch (2019)

Directed by: John Crowley

Premise: Based on the novel by Donna Tartt. A boy is taken in by an upper class New York family after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack on an art museum. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the boy is in possession of a painting believed to be destroyed in the attack.

What Works: The Goldfinch was shot by the always reliable Roger Deakins. The movie has a few striking images, especially when the action moves west and the young protagonist finds himself living in a largely vacant suburb on the edge of the desert. The Goldfinch looks great and Deakins’ cinematography is the film’s one redeeming quality.

What Doesn’t: The Goldfinch is a spectacular failure that (its cinematography excepted) does nothing right. What may have worked on the page does not necessarily work on the screen and everything about this story feels artificial. That’s most evident in the performances. Dialogue is frequently on the nose and sounds unnatural. This is especially true among the young characters who speak in an over mannered syntax that sounds like a bad imitation of English. Hampered by the bad dialogue, the young actors are terrible. The worst offenders are Oakes Fegley in the lead role and Finn Wolfhard as his Russian friend. Neither of them feels authentic and Wolfhard’s Russian accent makes him sound a like a junior Bond villain. These youngsters are depicted experimenting with drugs and alcohol but those scenes come across awkward instead of edgy. Things aren’t much better among the older characters. Everyone, young and old, is devoid of depth and complexity. Characters are who they initially appear to be and no one changes or learns anything over the course of the story. The audience isn’t bound to come to any epiphanies either. The filmmakers carry on as if The Goldfinch contains some important observations about life and art but it is utterly facile. The film’s emptiness is at least partly due to its absurd plotting. Events don’t lead logically from one to the next and the plot is one coincidence after another with plenty of logical lapses in between. The narrative is nonlinear, leaping backward and forward in time. Nothing cues the temporal shifts and there is no point to telling the story this way. The film comes across as a jumble of random scenes. There is no tension and nothing is at stake. We can understand intellectually why this young man kept the painting—he’s holding onto the memory of his mother—but there is no emotional resonance to it. The picture is never engaging and it feels every minute of its two and a half hour length.

Bottom Line: Donna Tartt’s novel was an esteemed literary work, the winner of numerous honors. The film version of The Goldfinch is a disaster that ought to rank alongside The Bonfire of the Vanities and 1995’s The Scarlet Letter among the worst adaptations of a work of literature.

Episode: #768 (September 29, 2019)