Review: The Goldfinch

Score: C+

Director: John Crowley

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright

Running Time: 149 Minutes

Rated: R

Despite what you may have heard, The Goldfinch is not a disaster. But it's certainly not the formidable awards contender it seemed at first glance. At most, the film's gorgeous cinematography (from master Roger Deakins) and haunting score (by the relatively unknown Trevor Gureckis) will be considered. Otherwise, there's plenty to admire, but nothing to love.

Oakes Fegley (the Pete's Dragon remake) plays Theo, a boy who survives a terrorist attack at a museum. His mother (Hailey Wist) did not, and the rest of his childhood is spent in homes that are not his own, where he never truly feels like he belongs. The first act of the film follows the tentative acceptance he feels with the Barbours, the wealthy family of his classmate (Ryan Foust). Nicole Kidman is great as usual as the matriarch, who grows perhaps a bit too attached to Theo.

Their time together is cut short by the re-emergence of Theo's deadbeat father (Luke Wilson, easily giving his best performance ever), a two-bit con artist with a drug-addicted girlfriend (Sarah Paulson). They drag him back to their dead-end Vegas suburb, where theirs is the only house in the neighborhood not in foreclosure. They really aren't fit to be parents. They have two modes: abusive and apathetic. But at least Theo has Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who's in a similar situation. Their friendship, forged in a haze of drinking and drugs, is probably the best stretch of the movie.

But this is the problem with adapting an 800-page novel in a two-and-a-half-hour movie: There's a mountain of plot and dozens of characters to get through, and there's still an hour to go. Jumping ahead 15 years or so, Theo is now an adult (played by Ansel Elgort) and a successful antique dealer with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), who took him in after he fled from Vegas. He's in a sham of a relationship and addicted to drugs, and that's just the least of his problems. So much happens from here in such a short amount of time that it blows past before it can make an impact.

In fact, that's the biggest problem with the film as a whole. It's well-crafted, but there's absolutely no emotional connection. For a protagonist to whom so many emotionally overwhelming things happen, shouldn't the movie make some sort of impact? The film throws several twists in the final stretch, but it can't make up for how the film trudged along until then.

So while the technical aspects of The Goldfinch are stunning, and the acting is good across the board, it doesn't come together to make a work of art.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.