It’s got to be difficult adapting a beloved, Pulitzer Prize winning novel to the big screen. It’s got to be accessible for audiences who’ve never read the book and yet keep the story intact for everyone who’s read it. The Goldfinch, adapted from Donna Tart’s 1994 novel, tries to do both but unfortunately only gets about halfway there.
Young Theo (played wonderfully by an expressive Oakes Fegley) and his mother are at a museum in New York City when suddenly, a terrorist has set off a bomb. He wakes up in a pile of dust and rubble and starts searching for his mom, who’s nowhere to be found. As he heads towards safety though, he takes the painting they were last looking at – The Goldfinch – and shoves it in his bag.
With no one to care for him, he ends up at the home of Mr. and Mrs Barbour (Boyd Gaines and Nicole Kidman) and their three foster children. Just as he’s getting used to his new family, his estranged, alcoholic father (Luke Wilson) and girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) show up and whisk him away to Las Vegas where he meets his neighbor, Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a young Russian kid. The two quickly become friends, indulging each other in whatever mischief – and weed and booze – the other wants to partake.
Eventually, Theo hightails it out of Vegas, making his way back to New York City and the home of antique furniture restorer, Hobie, a brilliant (as always) Jeffrey Wright.
Cut to years later, and an older Theo (Ansel Elgort) has taken up with Hobie’s business, buying and selling restored furniture. But, it turns out one smart client (Denis O’Hare) has figured out Theo’s connection to the long lost painting.
The first forty minutes of the film is a bit of a slog. There’s no real sense of where the film is going. It meanders and the story doesn’t latch onto the audience. It’s not until Wolfard’s Boris shows up that the film really – finally – begins to open up. But by then, most of the audience will most likely have given up. Director John Crowley picks it back up and the rest of the film works really well, especially thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, where every frame is a joy to see.
The cast is great. Wright has a short monologue about restoring furniture and it’s honestly the best thing in the film. Wolfhard plays a character unlike anything you’ve seen him do and Kidman is at her best as Theo’s surrogate mother. You just can’t help but wish the whole film rose to their level of talent.