Cast: Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Nicole Kidman, Jeffery Wright, Finn Wolfhard
Directed by John Crowley
Written by Donna Tartt (Book) and Peter Straughan (Screenplay)
When I first saw the trailer for The Goldfinch, I was captivated – entirely intrigued, as the trailer, unlike most, didn’t give an awful lot of the plot away. But something about it grabbed me enough to buy the book. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I was nervous when, as soon as the film released on the festival circuit, the bad reviews came flooding in. From critics, I might add, not a general audience.
The Goldfinch tells an unusual story. A story of relationship, crime, friendship and love that captures the viewers attention from the get go. It’s a long book with complex characters which immediately presents the issue of what to include and what to cut. So, unsurprisingly, it’s also a long film coming in at 149 minutes, but I wasn’t particularly aware of the length as I was watching, it’s a steadily paced movie but keeps ticking over nicely. I really enjoy a film that spans time, to see different actors play the same characters at different points in the characters life – something done brilliantly in this movie. The casting was spot on (work of casting director, Ellen Chenoweth), with all actors playing their part.
It is an artistic expression of the story. I enjoyed John Crowley’s music and editing choices, it felt ‘artsy’ without being too intense or alienating, whilst keeping you connected. The key to this connection throughout those artistic choices is Donna Tartt’s characters – these wonderfully layered, emotional personalities thrown together amongst various circumstances. Peter Straughan, who was responsible for the screenplay, managed to preserve the characters while keeping the story moving. Their experiences, reactions and relationships along with the real feeling of growing with them is what keeps the audience invested.
Translating the story from page to screen comes with plenty of challenges. The book starts in the present, flashes back to Theo’s childhood and then at a turn of a page propels forward 8 years then carries through to where we started. The film however, is a bit disjointed with its timeline, jumping back and forth over several years. This, without the background knowledge from the book, may be confusing. I can’t see how the regular time jumps assisted the story other than, perhaps, Crowley was concerned about the audience getting bored and wanting to grab their attention. Understandably the story needed to be shortened and, though generally I think they did a great job of this, it felt as though certain characters were seemingly sacrificed in doing so. There is one scene in the film that was disappointing – a moment between the characters of Welty and Theo. The entire scene felt over dramatic and unrealistic; choices that didn’t fit with the general essence of the film.
I also felt like the role of Lucius Reeve was scrappy. His scenes were important but felt rushed, like they were included as an afterthought. Personally, I felt like they could have cut them and found a different way of connecting the parts of the story that Reeve is integral to.
In considering the performances I couldn’t just pick one or two that stood out as exceptional. Firstly to mention Oakes Fegley, only 14, who had the responsibility of carrying a character of young Theo who goes through a complete whirlwind of emotion, seeing the total dislocation of his life through loss, adapting to new situations and moving forward with an endearing sense of purpose and determination. It would have been easy to over act and allow the character’s experiences to translate to a constant high state of emotion. Fegley seems to stay in complete control and did a fantastic job of such a complex character. Ansel Elgort mirrored the cool, calm exterior as first presented by Fegley, but has the added challenge of dealing with a lot more responsibility, playing tug of war dealing with his choices from the past and carefully protecting his relationships. A scene I particularly enjoyed was between adult Theo and adult Boris (Aneurin Barnard) in a bar, their chemistry was fantastic and you could really see the open wounds, the joy of reuniting mixed with confusion, guilt and pain. It really was a pleasure to watch.
The Goldfinch is a beautifully put together movie. Delicate, gripping and heartwarming, I would highly recommend that you go and watch this film. An exciting story following the life of a young boy who you grow so attached to from early on. Not forgetting the book, it’s well worth a read and takes you deeper into the lives of the characters that you’re introduced to in the movie.