sat 08/05/2021

The Goldfinch review - a pale reproduction | reviews, news & interviews

The Goldfinch review - a pale reproduction

The Goldfinch review - a pale reproduction

Adaptation of Donna Tartt's novel is less than the sum of its parts

Ansel Egort as the unknowable Theo Decker

Midway through John Crowley’s The Goldfinch, a character compares a reproduction antique with the real deal. “The new one is flat dead,” he says. He might as well be talking about the movie.

Midway through John Crowley’s The Goldfinch, a character compares a reproduction antique with the real deal. “The new one is flat dead,” he says. He might as well be talking about the movie.

On paper, John Crowley’s adaption of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has all the right ingredients to be an early awards contender. Firstly, there’s the novel. It may have divided snootier critics, but is adored by legions of readers. A Dickensian tale that stretches nearly 800 pages, it tackles grief, terrorism and drug addiction, all set within the romance of the art world. Then there’s the starry cast, including Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, and Ansel Elgort. Peter Straughan, the writer of one of the best screenplays of the century (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), is in charge of adapting Tartt’s sprawling bildungsroman. Finally, behind the camera is Oscar-winning cinematographer Rodger Deakins. Frustratingly, despite this rich blend of talent, The Goldfinch never quite comes together.

At the heart of the story is Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort), whose mother dies in a terrorist attack on a New York art gallery while he’s still a child. In the smoke and chaos, a dying man tells him to take a painting by a lesser-known Dutch master. From here he’s transported to the museum-like home of the Barbour family on the Upper East Side, before his absent father (Luke Wilson) and floozy girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) take him to live on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Eventually, he winds up back in New York where he is taken in by a kindly furniture restorer, Hobbie (Jeffery Wright), until his past catches up with him and he gets entangled with the Russian mob.Nicole Kidman and Ansel Egort in The GoldfinchThe plot plays out in a series of elegant tableaux, in which everyone is impeccably dressed and achingly chic. Aesthetically, the film is beguiling, combining the elegance of Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, but lacking the emotional punch of either. The overall effect is akin to the porcelain mannequins in a store window at Christmas - pretty, but devoid of emotion.

And this is the problem. Despite it’s handsome looks, the skill of compacting the novel into two-and-a-half hours, and the best efforts of the cast, the emotional core of the film remains elusive. Theo is unknowable - he glides between locations, haunted by the absence of his mother, smothering the pain with drugs and booze. But we never get close enough to feel his pain or know what motivates him.

As with a reproduction of a masterpiece, there’s the ghost of what the original artist captured, and it just about holds your attention. But for all its beauty, The Goldfinch never comes alive.

@JosephDAWalsh

The overall effect is akin to the porcelain mannequins in a store window at Christmas - pretty, but devoid of emotion

rating

Editor Rating: 
2
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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