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Blu-ray Review: The Goldfinch

December 9, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

One of the first films to crash and burn this awards season was The Goldfinch, director John Crowley’s adaptation of Donna Tartt’s massive, Pulitzer Prize-winning 2013 novel of the same name.

When the film premiered at TIFF a few days prior to its theatrical release this September, it fizzled rather quickly, with poor word of mouth and even poorer reviews emerging immediately following its world premiere. The film was declared to be a muddled, tonally confused bore, sinking pretty much any hopes it had at the box office.

Now that I’ve seen the film, I can say that, while certainly flawed in a lot of ways, The Goldfinch is also an ambitious melodrama that is somewhat better than many have given it credit for. This is not to say that it hits every mark, either as an adaptation or on its own terms, but I also don’t think that the film should be written off completely, and it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see a studio like Warner Bros. taking a chance on putting out a big, messy, character-driven adult drama such as this.

The story unfolds over roughly a decade and connects multiple characters, opening with Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort) as a young man in a hotel room in Amsterdam. As a boy, Theo (Oakes Fegley) lost his mother in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and got taken in by Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), the matriarch of a rich family in New York’s Upper East Side. One of the few things to survive the bombing was The Goldfinch, a 1654 painting by Carel Fabritius, that Theo stashed in his bag and took with him as he exited the building.

Throughout it all, this painting serves as the through-line to Theo’s story, and he brings it with him as he moves to Nevada to live with his father Larry (Luke Wilson), a recovering alcoholic and faded actor who has now shacked up with a woman named Xandra (Sarah Paulson). It’s here that Theo meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Russian boy who becomes a close friend to him that he will later reunite with as an adult (Aneurin Barnard). Theo is also connected to an antiques dealer named Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) back in New York, whose business partner was killed in the bombing.

It’s not a perfect adaptation. The story has clearly been condensed, and parts of it do feel rushed, which can lead to it feeling like a few separate movies rolled into one. While I admittedly haven’t read the book, so I can’t say how it compares, I do understand why some fans of Tartt’s novel will be disappointed by Crowley’s film. But viewed on its own terms, The Goldfinch boasts some solid performances from its ensemble cast and attractive cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins, and I was kept suitably engaged throughout the lengthy 149 minute running time.

Elgort and Fegley are impeccably well cast, and do a good job of playing younger and older versions of the same character, carrying the film with a pair of fine performances. Overall, The Goldfinch is a decent drama that I suspect time, and a possible critical reappraisal at some point, will be kinder to. It’s flawed, sure, but I also think curious viewers should give it a look.

The Blu-ray also includes the two solid featurettes The Goldfinch Unbound and The Real Goldfinch, which provide insight into the challenges of adapting the novel for the screen and the real painting behind the story, as well as a selection of deleted scenes that are edited together with introductions by Crowley explaining why they were cut from the film.

The Goldfinch is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 149 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: December 3rd, 2019

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