MOVIE REVIEW: The Goldfinch (2019)

On an outing to the Met, thirteen year old Theo Decker’s (Oakes Fegley/Ansel Engelort) mother is killed during an explosion. Confused and disoriented, Theo is convinced by Welty (Robert Joy), a fatally injured elderly man to take and hide a priceless painting called The Goldfinch.

Theo is given the task of returning Welty’s ring to his partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright). Here he meets and regularly visits, Pippa (Aimée Laurence/Ashleigh Cummings), Welty’s niece, who was also injured in the blast. He makes his home with The Barbours, a privileged classmate’s family. On the verge of being adopted, Theo is forced to relocate to Las Vegas to live with his estranged grifter father (Luke Wilson) and his girlfriend, Xandra (Sarah Paulson).

Here Theo meets and befriends, Boris (Finn Wolfhard/Aneurin Barnard), a Ukrainian classmate who introduces him to alcohol and drugs as an escape from his unhappy home life. This combination of chaos changes the course of Theo’s life throwing him into a mess of adventures that will reconnected him with key players from his past, with The Goldfinch always at the centre.

I read the book this was based on several years ago and absolutely loved it. It was dark, complex, nuanced and often disturbing exploring themes of class, wealth, beauty, value and friendship. These are all quite common themes for the author, Donna Tartt.

As a film, I’m just not sure it works as well. The thing that makes the novel so good is how much work Tartt puts into the relationships between the awkward and morally ambiguous, Theo and the people who influence his life… Hobie, Boris, Pippa, The Barbours, even Xandra. She also sets tangible, immersive scenes, especially in the wasteland of suburban Las Vegas. The film simply does not have time to weave this tapestry and so all the connections seem a bit loose. The intensity is lacking and it’s hard to really understand the character motivations. Possibly this is different if you’ve not read the book but I could not help comparing.

The performances are fine, no one really stands out. No one is horrible. The whole experience is just very average. If this is a story you want to explore, I’d recommend the book over the film. If you can’t be bothered to read the book, I’d probably skip it altogether.

2.5/5

14 Comments

  1. I haven’t read the book yet, so will happily skip the film as you suggest, Abbi.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I don’t think you’ll be missing much.

  2. The title with the word “Goldfinch” struck me, because I recently posted a photo on my blog of a Goldfinch (bird). I put out a bird feeder and had never heard of the bird before, let alone seen one. I know it doesn’t have to do with the review. I just found it funny how I never heard of a Goldfinch before, and now I’ve heard it twice in a month.
    https://loreezlane.wordpress.com/2020/08/25/photos-fiction-friends-fun-flowers-and-faith/

    Thanks for the review. Books are better for a story like this because you can actually get into the head of the characters to know what their emotional issues are. In a movie, if the actor doesn’t speak it out loud, you can only guess by their actions what they’re thinking.

    1. That is a strange coincidence!

      I think this particular story really does need you to understand the character motivations and it really falls short.

  3. I did not read the book, but I feel you on this. While watching, I told my friend that it felt like the summary of what was supposed to be a mini series. It could have really used a deeper dive into the characters and their connections. I ended up liking the trailer more than the movie haha

    1. I think a mini series would have made much more sense.

  4. I read the book and didn’t like it. Based on your review, I’m passing.

    1. If you didn’t like the book I think the film would really be a waste of your time!

      1. Yes, I was thinking the same thing.

  5. You’re far more generous than I thought you’d be. It seemed pretty boring and flat from what everyone was saying. The book had some great moments, but I did prefer The Secret History.

    1. The Secret History was so good. I am not sure I could pick a favourite from the two though!

  6. I haven’t seen the movie but I remember the trailer and just being confused. Just from the trailer, I wouldn’t even have been able to tell you what the film is about.

    1. The film is really confusing too. I am not sure how much sense it would make if you’d not read the book.

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