Some books are better left unadapted for the screen.
That is the case with “The Goldfinch” – the latest from “Brooklyn” director John Crowley.
The film, based on Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is a plodding piece of melodrama that never takes flight. And despite the best efforts of Crowley and the cast, the cold and distant piece of prose doesn’t translate into a feature film.
“The Goldfinch” tells the story of Theo Decker (played as a child by Oakes Fegley and as an adult by Ansel Elgort), whose life takes a tragic turn when his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As Theo tries to come to grips with the tragic event with constant changes in his life, he has one thing he turns to for comfort – a priceless piece of art known as the Goldfinch that he stole from the museum during the bombing’s chaotic aftermath.
The film follows Theo as a successful antique dealer, but also flashes back to key moments following the bombing that led to this point in his life.
And therein lies one of the multitude of problems with “The Goldfinch” – Peter Straughan’s screenplay covers a lot of ground in a mind-numbing run time of nearly 150 minutes with a lot of scenes that eventually intersect for a purpose but are dull and drawn out in the moment.
I have not read the novel, but I would imagine it’s difficult to condense a book that is more than 900 pages down to a feature-length film. You can see that struggle throughout with “The Goldfinch” moving along at a very sluggish pace – moving toward a rather unsatisfying payoff.
The cast members do what they can with the material, but even that is hit or miss.
Fegley fares the best of anyone, giving Theo a bit of life that is missing in the other scenes. Finn Wolfhard is also good as Boris, one of Theo’s friends, with their interactions the best moments in the film.
While the young cast gets a little mileage out of the material, the adult cast doesn’t fare quite as well.
Nicole Kidman seems to be too restrained as a neighbor who takes Theo in immediately after the attack. That’s also the case for Jeffrey Wright, who plays another of Theo’s mentors. Luke Wilson is also miscast as Theo’s abusive father, a role too menacing for Wilson to pull off.
And then there is Elgort, whose performance basically sums up “The Goldfinch.”
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Elgort’s work, but the character just comes off as distant, cold and unemotional – making it hard for the audience to connect with. It’s like looking at a beautiful work of art that has no personal meaning.
That coldness permeates throughout “The Goldfinch.”
The result is a film that looks fine on the surface but lacks any emotional impact to make it worth your time.