"Convoluted Plot, Unsympathetic Characters"
What You Need To Know:
THE GOLDFINCH has an unpredictable plot, but its randomness is a detriment more than an asset. Eventually, a final plot twist occurs where something good comes out of all the bad. This conclusion is somewhat fatalistic, however. THE GOLDFINCH also has some strong foul language and a casual attitude toward the story’s illicit drug use. The movie’s plot is too convoluted to be truly engaging.
THE GOLDFINCH is the story of a 13-year-old upper crust boy whose life is upended when his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he steals a priceless painting called “The Goldfinch” during the post-bombing chaos. THE GOLDFINCH is too convoluted to be truly engaging, has strong foul language and lots of drug use, and its lightly positive conclusion is too fatalistic to be truly uplifting.
The movie in Amsterdam as a 21-year-old man contemplates suicide and looks back on what led him to this position. Cut to eight years before, where a 13-year-old New York City boy named Theo (Oakes Fegley) is admiring classic artworks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a bomb explodes and kills his mother in another room. Picking himself up from the rubble amid dust and mass chaos of dead bodies and people running, Theo is given an expensive ring by a dying old man and told to take it to a particular antique shop.
As Theo flees with the ring, he sees a small priceless painting called “The Goldfinch” hanging on the wall and steals it, placing it under his jacket. He keeps it hidden in a yellow bag for years, first when he’s taken in by rich family friends headed by Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman).
Theo adjusts slowly to his new life with the Barbours. One day, however, his father (Luke Wilson), who abandoned him and his mother when Theo was young, returns to claim him and move him to Las Vegas. Theo’s dad has a terrible gambling problem and soon exploits the money Theo inherited from his mother. Meanwhile, Theo becomes extremely close friends with a Russian immigrant boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who has access to all sorts of illicit pills and LSD.
The two boys experiment with the drugs and drinking beer through all sorts of bad experiences that befall them. However, one night a surprise tragedy hits, and Theo feels the need to run away back to New York. Boris stuns him by revealing his love for him, and by saying he can’t follow Theo on his cross-country flight.
Theo winds up staying with an antique dealer (Jeffrey Wright) for years, having met the man when he brought him the ring that the old man gave him. However, when the story jumps to follow Theo (Ansel Elgort) in his early 20s, where his drug use, art theft and other dark aspects of his past come back to haunt him.
THE GOLDFINCH is based on a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt that was a sprawling near-800 pages in length. The movie is also a sprawling tale, packed into two and a half hours and still feeling like it skips around too much at times. While the movie is sumptuous to look at in its portrayal of upper-crust New York life, and many of the performances are strong (particularly Jeffrey Wright and Ansel Elgort), the story is so convoluted it’s hard to follow at times and just as hard to care about what happens to the characters.
As the young Theo who is expected to carry much of the movie, Oakes Fegley is solid but his character boxes in his emotions so much that it’s hard for him to display much range. Elgort is better as the adult Theo, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where he tries and fails to win the heart of the woman he truly loves while facing a loveless, basically arranged marriage to another woman.
Perhaps, the most annoying aspect of the tale is its far too casual attitude towards illicit drug use, particularly the fact that it’s being carried out by tweens. There are few if any consequences to their use, which makes the characters who use them unsympathetic.
THE GOLDFINCH has a plot that’s largely unpredictable, but its randomness winds up being a detriment more than an asset. Eventually, a final plot twist occurs where something good comes out of all the bad that Theo and his teenage friend, Boris, do. This leads Boris to tell Theo that good can come from bad. Despite this conclusion, there’s nothing spiritual about it, so the conclusion comes across as rather humanist.
Ultimately, THE GOLDFINCH is too convoluted to be truly engaging, and the positive conclusion is too fatalistic to attract many moviegoers, especially media-wise viewers.