For those who contend that some novels are unfilmable, The Goldfinch lends credence to your argument.
Adapting the sprawling Pulitzer-winning Donna Tartt book is a daunting task, but this big-screen version winds up as a melodramatic mishmash in which the disjointed structure compromises much of the emotional resonance.
In other words, what’s supposed to be a deeply felt coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and residual trauma manages only intermittent poignancy while otherwise tugging too aggressively at the heartstrings.
Theo (Ansel Elgort) is a Manhattan antiques dealer trying to escape his volatile past, specifically his mother’s death in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when he was a child.
The bulk of the story picks up in the aftermath, when preteen Theo (Oakes Fegley) is taken in as an orphan by an affluent family that includes a doting matriarch (Nicole Kidman) and three spoiled children, one of which (Aimee Laurence) becomes a love interest.
Theo begins working for an antique furniture restorer (Jeffrey Wright) before his absentee father (Luke Wilson) swoops in with ulterior motives and forces him to move to Las Vegas. There, a young neighbor of Ukrainian descent (Finn Wolfhard) becomes a close ally amid the volatility.
Many of these connections resurface once the adult Theo returns to New York. But none of them are aware of his secret involving the mysterious titular painting.
New York’s rich visual texture is captured in past and present by Irish director John Crowley (Brooklyn) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049).
However, fans of the source material will no doubt have questions for accomplished screenwriter Peter Straughan (Our Brand Is Crisis), who condenses large chunks of Tartt’s dense story and omits other segments. In this case, it’s probably best to separate the two.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from awkward transitions between its flashbacks and contemporary stories, and some of the characters and subplots become lost in the shuffle. The artwork in many ways is rendered an afterthought, and so are Theo’s relationships with many of the parental figures in his life.
Despite the lack of character depth, certain performers shine, especially young Fegley (Pete’s Dragon), who demonstrates maturity beyond his years. Kidman and Sarah Paulson each make the most of sketchy roles.
The result is too choppy and muddled to be as powerful or profound as intended. The Goldfinch rarely takes flight.