The Goldfinch is about many things. The story of Theo, a young boy whose mother was killed in a terrorist attack at an art gallery, The Goldfinch follows Theo into adulthood as it tackles weighty themes like tragedy, trauma, coming-of-age, addiction, true love, and the question of whether one can truly own a work of art. It’s also a mystery about the whereabouts of the titular Goldfinch, a priceless painting that went missing the day Theo survived the bombing that killed his mother. With so much going on, it’s not surprising the film is an adaptation of a 784 page book. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt, the movie may not feel as detailed or lived in as its source material, but director John Crowley’s final product is compelling.
The problem with adapting popular fiction for the big screen is something’s always missing. The Goldfinch is no exception. Every subplot feels a little underdeveloped. And yet, each scene is eminently watchable. The audience doesn’t have time to get to know each character in Crowley’s film, like Sarah Paulson’s Xandra, the drug-dealing stepmom who resents Theo’s presence in her home; however, the glimpses we do see feel nuanced and real. The plot is offered up in fragments, but the highly competent cast are able to give you a handle on their characters with minimal screen time.
One breakout performance comes from Luke Wilson. Long considered a B-list Hollywood actor whose heyday was playing the love interest in Legally Blonde, Wilson has matured into a dynamic performer. With his handful of scenes, Wilson manages to convey the mercurial, sleazy nature of an abusive man who’s convinced he’s The Good Guy.
Of course, this film hinges on protagonist, Theo, and how well he’s captured on celluloid. Both Oakes Fegley (Young Theo) and Ansel Elgort (Adult Theo), are subtle but expressive, giving continuity to a character we see grow up. The duo capture both Theo’s trauma and the innate charm that helps the character join the upper echelons of New York Society as a young man. We see an immaculately dressed Theo obsequiously charming high society ladies one minute and secretly popping narcotics the next, but it all feels authentic. You buy the double life of a troubled soul who can’t recover from the traumatic event that took his mother.
When the Oscars roll around, the Academy will likely find lots to reward in this sweeping family drama cum mystery. Crowley’s motion picture may not be as textured as Tartt’s novel, but the broad strokes are all there.