Turning a beloved book into a movie is always tough. Expectations are high and everyone is eager to compare it to the original work. So, when it was announced that Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch would be made for the screen, many were skeptical. From the trailer, it seemed like just another watered-down Hollywood adaptation, one that would cut corners for time’s sake and remove all the nuance to make the story more straightforward for the common audience. But the movie, directed by John Crowley, is actually quite sophisticated. Although it’s not as good as the book by any means, which is true about ninety percent of the time, the film adaptation of The Goldfinch is surprisingly well-made and enjoyable.
When 13-year-old Theo Decker loses his mother in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum, he is thrust into the world with no one to care for him. All he has is the Goldfinch, a painting that was stolen from the museum that means everything to him. What transpires is a story with a great deal of heart, emotion, and a good deal of crying.
The movie got horrible, vicious reviews. The main reason that critics laid into it so much was it was too sappy and had no plot. I’ll ad
If you just let go of some of that skepticism … what you’ll find is a moving story with masterful
mit that The Goldfinch is a very emotional movie with a slow build, but just because it isn’t quick or funny, and doesn’t spoon-feed information to the viewer, doesn’t make it bad. It’s very easy to mock a movie for being too earnest and sentimental, but if you just let go of some of that skepticism — that snarky voice that tells you that it’s stupid — what you’ll find is a moving story with masterful filmmaking.
The aesthetic alone was something to be proud of. The Goldfinch glides through scenes with expert cinematography that is both gorgeous and non-distracting.
Taking place in New York City and in the Las Vegas desert, the set design was very appropriate; every location looked like part of a real place. Best of all was the soundtrack. By combining various music genres, from classical to classic rock to jazz to new wave, the film was able to evoke many different moods. But all these elements were just adornments attached to a powerful story.
Being able to adapt a novel into a screenplay, especially one as long and sprawling as The Goldfinch, is definitely a feat worthy of recognition. I usually geek out and get angry at all the little details left out of the movie, but this time it wasn’t very bothersome, and every important piece of the book can be seen somewhere in the movie. Award-winning editor Kelley Dixon was able to cut the scenes together in a way that flowed and didn’t leave long and dull spaces. Surprisingly, the film’s ending was much quicker and tidier than the one in the book.
Even though most of the actors, such as Nicole Kidman, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, Oakes Fegley, and Luke Wilson, delivered excellent performances, a few of them fell a bit short. Ansel Elgort was decent in most cases yet was a bit flat at times. A few parts of the movie are a tad corny, but I think this corniness is somewhat earned since it’s about a boy losing his mother. Occasionally the dialogue becomes rather weepy and cliché, especially during scenes with Ansel Elgort and his love interest (played by Ashleigh Cummings). For the most part, the writing was great and was able to do the characters’ emotions justice.
Another point of note is that people who have already read and enjoyed The Goldfinch are at a certain advantage when watching it as the storyline does not need to win them over. They already care about the characters and understand the plot. I do think that certain parts of the film, the beginning especially, may be confusing to a viewer going in not knowing anything. The inciting incident of the story is not shown right away and is instead spliced throughout the movie. Readers will already understand what is going on and will be able to fill in the blanks where the film falls short. This is a bad choice because it doesn’t give the viewer enough initial context to care about the events that follow. In a way, I think this film was only made for people who were already fans of the book.
Despite its few shortcomings, The Goldfinch should still be acknowledged as a well-made movie and semi-effective rendering of a phenomenal literary work.