Pros: Excellent literary basis; impressive ensemble cast; inspired performance by young actors; cinematography by Roger Deakins; interesting narrative solutions Cons: The film lacks the depth and scale of the novel; the story breaks up into separate episodes; Ansel Elgort’s sterile play The Goldfinch / “The Goldfinch”
Directed by John Crowley
Cast: Ansel Elgort (Theodore “Theo” Dekker), Oakes Fegley (Young Theo), Aneurin Barnard (Boris), Finn Wolfhard (Young Boris), Ashley Cummings (Pippa), Aimee Lawrence (Young Pippa), Jeffrey Wright (Hobie), Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Barbour), Luke Wilson (Larry Decker), Sarah Paulson (Xandra), Ryan Faust (Andy Barbour), etc.
Amazon Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures
Year of release 2019
Donna Tartt’s novel “The Goldfinch” tells the story of a boy, Theo Dekker, who at the age of 13, together with his mother, finds himself at the center of a terrorist attack at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and, quite by chance, becomes the owner of a priceless masterpiece – the painting “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius. This is one of 16 known paintings by the brilliant Dutchman that survived his tragic death during the explosion of gunpowder magazines in Delft on October 12, 1654, which destroyed most of the city. Theo, who has lost his mother, cannot simply give up the painting, with which he has many connections, to the authorities, and therefore secretly keeps it, wandering among foster families.
Donna Tartt’s novel is a monumental, almost 800-page work, written in magnificent figurative language (I recommend the Ukrainian translation), with a lot of interesting details regarding the world of art, and well-developed characters. Warner Bros. Pictures acquired the film rights back in 2014 and brought in Irish director John Crowley, best known for his theatrical productions and the 2015 drama Brooklyn, which garnered a rich crop of awards, including a BAFTA for Best British Film. But perhaps even more significant was the fact that Roger Deakins himself, who worked on such cult films as Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, True Grit, No Country for Old Men and others, agreed to become the film’s cinematographer. Roger Deakins has 13 (!) Oscar nominations and only won one statuette for Blade Runner 2049.
The film’s cast is no less impressive. The adult Theo Dekker was played by Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort; Nicole Kidman was perfect for the role of Mrs. Barbour, the mother of Theo’s friend, who took in the boy immediately after the explosion; Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story, The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, 12 Years a Slave) made an almost perfect Xandra, and Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games, Westworld), although not outwardly similar to his book prototype, turned out to be is simply superb as Hobie, Theo’s mentor who instilled in him a love of antiques.
However, what is more impressive than the big-name actors in The Goldfinch are the young performers who bring the characters of children to life. Almost all the young actors deserve praise, but I especially want to highlight the performers of the roles of Theo and Boris as children – Oakes Fegley and Finn Wolfhard. And if Wolfhard is already well known to the general public thanks to his breakthrough roles in Stranger Things and It, then Oakes Fegley is so far remembered only by his performance in the rather weak Pete’s Dragon. I hope that after The Goldfinch they will pay more attention to this actor.
Donna Tartt’s original novel is a voluminous, rather leisurely and linear narrative. The authors of the film, which already runs almost two and a half hours, could not afford such leisurely action and recomposed the story, making it non-linear, more dynamic and shortening many fragments, especially in the second part. Such a decision has both positive and negative sides. With flashbacks and a regular return to the bifurcation point, the story of Theo Dekker and “The Goldfinch” becomes more like a detective story, and the writers actively use this, diligently hanging guns on the walls that are supposed to fire in the finale. On the other hand, breaking Tartt’s almost continuous text into episodes makes it somewhat difficult to understand, especially for those unfamiliar with the book, turning the whole story into a series of separate scenes.
In addition, many artistic techniques, such as very precise, figurative descriptions of the environment and people, internal monologues and Theo’s thoughts, naturally could not be shown in the film, which, as expected, deprived the story of depth and versatility. As a result, it turns out that the film did not please either those viewers who are well acquainted with the original principle – they simply did not have enough of what was shown in the film, nor those who did not read the novel – instead of a solid story, they received a set of episodes, only very conditionally related to each other.
Yes, these episodes are very well shot, thanks to Roger Deakins, and contain some interesting artistic solutions, such as the elusive image of the mother running through the entire film, but they do not allow us to piece together the overall picture. If Amazon Studios and Warner Bros. filmed The Goldfinch as a mini-series for 6 episodes with a total running time of 4-4.5 hours, this would have benefited the narrative part of the film.
In addition, I want to scold Ansel Elgort a little. Yes, Theo Dekker is not a very verbose and emotional young man, but he is still not as sterile and detached from the world around him as Elgort makes him out to be. Compared to him, Aneurin Barnard, who plays the adult Boris, is simply an alien from another world, which is true in principle, but… Boris looks too clean and well-groomed, his gaze lacks the cynicism and emptiness that should have appeared there, considering what Boris lived his life.
However, I repeat, I do not consider The Goldfinch to be a completely bad film, as the Western press writes about it. For example, I even liked this visualization of images from the novel. If The Goldfinch draws attention to the original work and, perhaps more importantly, to the painting shown in the film and to art museums in general, then this will already justify its creation, if not in terms of finance, then at least in terms of public benefit . I can’t say that I encourage everyone to immediately go to the cinemas, but if you like intelligent cinema, then when The Goldfinch appears on streaming services, at least watch this film at home, in a calm environment.
Although The Goldfinch would have made more sense as a mini-series, a feature film is also worthy of attention, at least as a companion piece to Donna Tartt’s novel