The Goldfinch tracks the tragic life of Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort as an adult, Oakes Fegley as a kid), who loses his mother in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He happens to steal a painting, “The Goldfinch,” from the wreckage, instigating an elaborate relationship with the artwork that lasts the rest of his life — a life conveyed in choppy, non-chronological fashion that creates an immediate impenetrability in director John Crowley’s attempt at a contemporary American Epic.
Everything about The Goldfinch feels ostentatious and over-confident, including hiring Roger Deakins to act as cinematographer. So much happens over its 140-minute running time, but in the end nothing happens. Even the film, with its “life happens” conclusion, seems to recognize its own hollow heart.
Colorful characters populate Theo’s story. His deadbeat father, Larry (Luke Wilson), who “got clean” from alcohol addiction by only drinking beer; Larry’s sun0kissed new wife, Xandra (Sarah Paulson), who hates Theo; the Barbours, a family that takes him in after the bombing, led by Nicole Kidman as Samantha; Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), who becomes Theo’s mentor in fine-art dealing; Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings), Theo’s unrequited love; Boris (Aneurin Barnard as an adult and Finn Wolfhard as a kid), his best friend and an eventual mobster whose troubled life creates Theo’s lifelong drug addiction. It’s the sort of cast you’d expect to appear in headshots at the bottom of a poster. Recognizable names. Really, only Wright makes an impact, and that’s simply by virtue of being Jeffrey Wright.
Young Theo meets young Boris and the two bond over being aimless children of terrible fathers. They do drugs, cause a ruckus. A slow-motion montage ensues with Radiohead’s “Codex” playing. It’s actually the better of two Radiohead needle drops this year (Waves slanders itself with the godawful version of “True Love Waits” from A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s worst album). The sequence is memorable by virtue of choosing a song I already liked, not for any emotionally salient story reason. It’s that sort of film: a hodgepodge of ham-fisted attempts at scene-by-scene emotions because the story isn’t sure what it wants to say, anyway. (I have not read Donna Tartt’s book, but maybe the story benefits from internal monologue.)
The DVD set includes two making-of documentaries as well as deleted scenes.