Sometimes, you get a movie that has lots of talented people working on it, but it turns out to be so lackluster that it leaves you wondering just how talented they really are. With John Crowley of Brooklyn and Boy A directing, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and actors like Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Sarah Paulson, and Finn Wolfhard collaborating on an adaptation of a celebrated novel, you come to expect a certain level of quality. The Goldfinch, though, does not deliver on these high expectations.
After young Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort) loses his mother in a terrorist bomb attack at an art museum, he goes to live with the Barbour family. But he’s hiding a big secret from his friends about what actually happened the day of the attack. This secret will then define so much of what becomes of the rest of his life.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it never really decides what it wants to be, or what it wants to say. It is inconsistent in so many ways, and that is where the overall blandness of the movie really finds its source. At one moment, it’s trying so hard to be a deeply emotional and introspective film, but five minutes later, it will be a crime thriller. At one moment, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) will be withdrawn and not talk to anyone, but in the next, he decides he’s ready to talk, without prompt. Nicole Kidman is in this movie, but then disappears for an hour before coming back. It is all just very disjointed.
This film knows that it wants to tackle some very deep and thoughtful themes. There is obvious trauma that Theo needs to cope with, as well as regret and self-blame, and it has an overarching theme about the power of art. But the film does also attempt to be hopeful, despite Theo’s drug addiction (which never seems to affect how he is as a person – we just see him doing lots of drugs). It emphasizes moving on from the past, letting it inform your future, and seeing how good can come from bad. The problem is that all of these ideas are simply brought up and presented. It doesn’t grab on to any of them to deeply explore, ponder, or present to the audience.
The actors in this movie are obviously trying their very best to make the jumbled screenplay work, but for all of them not named Nicole Kidman, I questioned their actual acting talent at least once each. This is especially true of Elgort, who is probably best served when he’s driving along to catchy upbeat music, and Finn Wolfhard, who has absolutely no business attempting a Russian accent for an extended amount of time. All the while, screenplay writer Peter Straughan’s British heritage is consistently on display, due to how the American characters use British phrases uncharacteristically.
All in all, I want to believe in the power of art, as it is presented. Unfortunately, The Goldfinch never gives me any reason to do so.