Screen adaptations of novels often feel overstuffed, too long, and drawn out, and “The Goldfinch” is no exception. Relentlessly and notoriously attacked by critics at the Toronto International Film Festival, you may already have preconceived notions that it’s a real stinker. It isn’t.
Yes, there’s too much story here, but this film is beautifully shot (with handsome cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins), thoughtfully directed (by John Crowley), and the entire cast (including Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Jeffrey Wright, Finn Wolfhard, and Luke Wilson) gives effective performances that make this one of the more memorable movie going experiences of the year.
Adapted from Donna Tartt’s bestselling Pulitzer-winning novel, the film tells the story of Theo (Oakes Fegley), a 13 year old boy who spends his life defined by a traumatic childhood incident where his mother was killed in a bombing at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the aftermath, he swipes a 1654 Carel Fabritius masterpiece painting from the walls of the museum. Theo holds on to this painting for years, and it changes his life in many ways. The film follows Theo as he grows into an adult (Ansel Elgort) and takes viewers along on his odyssey of guilt, grief, regret, reinvention, and redemption. The themes are heavy, but the narrative is compelling.
It’s a plot-heavy, complex story that takes its time to unfold. The film isn’t perfect, but there are far more pleasures than stumbles along the way. The screenplay weaves in and out of time and place, taking viewers from the brownstones of New York to the foreclosed neighborhoods of mid-2000s Las Vegas, and eventually the canals of Amsterdam. Characters are introduced and dismissed, and major plot points are shoved into brief jolts throughout the story. Sometimes a novel is too intricate to make into an effective film, but somehow screenwriter Peter Straughan manages to keep the sprawling plot interesting for nearly three hours.
Perhaps those who are fans of the novel may have too-high expectations and their enjoyment of the film will suffer as a result. I had the benefit of never having read the book (which I plan to do now), so I had no prior knowledge of or assumptions about a big screen adaptation. Thoughtful viewers looking for a mature, refined drama will want to seek out “The Goldfinch.”