The Goldfinch movie cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Finn Wolfhard
The Goldfinch movie director: John Crowley
The Goldfinch movie rating: 1.5 stars
As per the website spirit-animals.com, Goldfinch, a bird with a bright yellow plumage, symbolises exuberance. The famous painting The Goldfinch has a duller-looking bird rather tragically chained to its perch. Surely, a film that derives its name from that painting should fall in either category. Instead, this 2.5-hour laboriously-moving movie is as smooth and pretty — and flat — as Elgort’s cheeks. He is shaved clean of even a 5 o’clock shadow; it is ironed out of even the smallest little wrinkle.
And yet, there is so much going for the movie. The novel on which it is based won a Pulitzer. It involves a boy who loses his mother in a bombing and blames himself for it. It features friendships of the kind only children can forge. It has Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright and Sarah Paulson in some pivotal roles. It even has a hint of a central theme about fakes vs originals, how that extends beyond inanimate objects, and about kindred spirits. But, Crowley of Oscar-nominated Brooklyn fame loses his way partly due to too much reverence to a subject that is difficult to portray on screen, but mostly due to a strange structure that doesn’t allow the film to hit any rhythm.
Theo (played by Oakes Fegley as child, Ansel Elgort as adult) has been left practically orphaned by that bombing, with his father (Luke Wilson) having abandoned them months earlier. The State settles him temporarily in the house of his former friend. The matriarch, truly, of that upper-crust house is the stately and cold Mrs Barbour (Kidman), who strikes an instant if unexpressed bond with Theo. Crowley handles this part well, with the family including four children, reacting in different ways to this brooding tragedy in their midst.
However, rather than building on this, the film spools ahead, spools back, and spools to somewhere in the middle — while taking a long detour into antique furniture — in its efforts to recount an unsettled life. Theo finds himself variously turning to an antiques dealer/restorer (Wright), his estranged dad and his smoking-drinking girlfriend (Paulson, in an uncharacteristic role), and a Ukrainian classmate (Finn Wolfhard) for anchor, while tumbling through drugs and drinks with little consequence.
A constant through it all is the prized painting, The Goldfinch, by 17th-century painter Carel Fabritius, that Theo walked away with from the gallery the day of the bombing. The reason why he did that, and why he continues to keep it a secret, escapes him.
The problem is, it also escapes us.