In The Goldfinch, Brooklyn (2015) director John Crowley presents an ambitious yet decidedly muddled adaptation of Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel of the same name. Starring Ansel Elgor (Baby Driver, The Fault in Our Stars), Nicole Kidman as well as Stranger Things and IT star Finn Wolfhard, the film could well be one of the biggest misfires of the year, proving once again that book-to-screen adaptations can sometime be a rather tricky business.
After his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 13 year old Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley) escapes from the blast having seemingly impulsively stolen Carel Fabritius’s famous painting The Goldfinch. With nobody left to take care of him, Theo is placed with the Barbours, the wealthy family of his school friend Andy (Ryan Foust). Soon Theo finds a kindred sprit in Andy’s mother Samantha (Nicle Kidman) with whom he shares a deep love of art and antiques.
Theo’s happiness is however short-lived when his alcoholic father (Luke Wilson) decides to take the boy to live with him and his barmaid girlfriend (a fantastic Sarah Paulson) in a derelict town outside the Vegas strip where the teen befriends Ukrainian kid Boris (Finn Wolfhard).
Years later, a now grown up Theo (Elgor ) has made his way back to New York and has made a name for himself working for childhood mentor Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) in his antique workshop. But all isn’t quite well with Theo as years of keeping such a huge secret have have left him unable to form lasting relationships.
Crowley and screenwriter Peter Straughan offer an admittedly well acted, yet deeply flawed story which is primarily let down by its inability to break away from the original source material. And while it’s true that some books are simply unfilmable, the problem here is far deeper and more complex than that.
The real issue here is that we are left with a set of characters that are so deeply caricatural that you can’t help but wonder what motivates them or their actions. And in the end, what might have seemed like a deeply complex idea in the book, simply feels a little silly once translated onto the screen.
Elgor gives a beautifully measured turn, but is sadly let down by a tediously meandering screenplay. For her part, Nicole Kidman puts in a rather stunted turn as Samantha Barbour whom she offers as a both icy and enigmatic.
Whilst there are moments of unfathomable beauty and devastation thanks to Roger Deakins stunning cinematography, there is no denying that The Goldfinch has ultimately succumbed to a badly handled screenplay and a decidedly muddled tone. It is a beautifully shot mess of a film.