‘The Goldfinch’ disappoints fans with jumbled, drawn-out adaptation

Avery Wohleb

This film adaptation feels about as long and laborious as the 800-page book looks.

Directed by John Crowley, “The Goldfinch” is an adaption of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Fans of the book have expressed their interest in the movie adaptation for several years, eager to see how such a complex story could play out on the big screen.

The movie immediately kicks into traumatic high gear when 13-year-old Theo (Oakes Fegley) visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother. In the chaotic aftermath of a bombing that kills his mother, Theo steals a 17th-century painting from the museum and flees, setting the primary conflict into action.

One of the film’s downfalls was its inability to fully utilize its capable cast. Ansel Elgort plays an adult Theo, who has become a drug-addicted businessman years after his mother’s death. Elgort’s talent is undermined by ineffective writing, yet he is still able to give an admirable performance within the overall dullness of the film. Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman plays Mrs. Barbour, the mother of one of Theo’s classmates, who takes Theo in after the bombing. An opportunity for her talent to be highlighted is missed when the range of Kidman’s character is limited to whispered dialogue and tear-filled smiles.

The most notable performance comes from Finn Wolfhard. Able to shine as Theo’s Ukranian childhood friend Boris, Wolfhard brings comedic relief alongside Fegley at a time when it is desperately needed. Wolfhard and Fegley succeed in portraying a heart-warming story of two boys, bound together by hardships that go well beyond typical adolescent misfortunes.

While the film excels in its sensory art with wondrous cinematography alongside a beautifully written soundtrack, its pacing distracts from the things that make it enjoyable. By trying to fit in too much from the book, the movie tells disconnected stories that are put together to make one giant, highly over-detailed mess. With its bumpy navigation of toggling between past and present scenes, a simple narrative is made into something much more complex, a detriment to the film’s fluidity. For most of the film, the relevancy of the past feels much more significant than the ever-boring present, which renders the emotional appeals throughout the story unequal in their distribution.

As a movie about death, perhaps its biggest loss is its inability to bring the book’s most significant messages to the big screen. Though underlying themes of love and loss are certainly present, they get misplaced in their neglect throughout the movie’s progression. The stolen painting, which serves as a symbol of Theo’s grief for his mother in the book, becomes a forgettable plot point in the film, making for an abrupt reintroduction when it suddenly becomes the focus later on. It’s only after a series of never-ending conflicts caused by the painting that we gain any insight at all into Theo’s feelings toward his mother, which waters down the effectiveness the role of grief plays in the movie.

Ultimately, “The Goldfinch” fails to live up to its potential to be great, suffering from plot entanglements and 30 extra minutes of footage it could have done without.