The Goldfinch - Review
by Theresa Peteranna
Some would say Donna Tartt’s third book, a chunky mediation of life, love and art, should never be condensed into a feature film. The box office’s pithy figures would agree. Tartt’s magnum opus, The Secret History, is famously stubborn to adaption and many who have attempted to secure rights have been plagued with deaths. The Goldfinch, however, had a somewhat quiet turnaround to the screen and has lost respective companies almost $50 million.
In the book, Tartt’s language is consistently rich with description. Each room, chair, coat, and countenance is described with a filmic eye. For director John Crawley, it was an exercise in attention to the text that he delivers with beautiful clean shots and tasteful mise-en-scene. Although the film’s strengths lie mostly in visuals, the talented actors add heart to the somewhat sterile film. Fans of Stranger Things will enjoy Finn Wolfhart’s portrayal of the indomitable Boris. Boris, with the young Theo (Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort) make the audience sit up and laugh. The child characters swear, curse, drink and take drugs. More importantly, the children are given agency and complexity rather than Hollywood’s usual blonde-haired props at the kitchen table.
While an entertaining and at times touching experience, it is clear why The Goldfinch has ‘bombed’. There are fatal misgivings about the message, which may say more about what is lost in translation from the book to the film. Though a generous two and a half hours, time is still the enemy to the feature that makes many characters of note fall flat. Reoccurring shots of Theo’s tight clutch around the newspaper would have you think the painting was simply a metaphor for his lost mother.
The film is rife with loss and many moments of exquisite beauty. Perhaps the real loss is the crux of the novel. The importance of art which gives the tortured Theo any reason to live on is glossed over. The film is like the faux-vintage furniture Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) dismisses: beautiful to the eye, but once you start to feel around the edges you can see the machine cuts of a large budget production - perfectly made but lacking life.