The Goldfinch (2019)

John Crowley directs Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman and Jefferey Wright in this adaptation of Donna Tartt’s ‘great American novel’ about a child survivor of a terrorist attack in an art gallery, who stole and kept a valuable painting with him through his adolescence.

Opening to terrible reviews I expected the very worst from The Goldfinch. Rich people with rich people problems… my most despised sub-genre. Yet for most of the runtime I was caught up in its soapy machinations, its wealth porn furnishings and its cold, intriguingly hard to pin down performances. The acting is caged and guarded like a Terrence Rattigan play or an Ishiguro adaptation. This allows the emotions to fleetingly erupt through with pleasing destructive force when those preppy shirts and $300 scarfs give way, and also the metaphors to remain neatly obtuse. The Goldfinch is a film that doesn’t massively hold your hand as it unspools its secrets, shifting through timelines and keeping certain character’s partially glimpsed mysteries beyond the end credits. That is brave storytelling in modern day cinema, Crowley has already proven with his superior Brooklyn he has a masterful control when birthing these prestige literary refurbishments. I liked the Dickensian scope and brave lack of blunt explanation. It made me want to read the novel…. but perhaps in a decade when the more obvious highlights and turns have faded a little from memory. Where the film stumbled for me, the uninitiated casual viewer, is in the ending. A crime narrative is forced in, seemingly for a bit of trailer friendly gunplay. Then left unresolved. A character we like and are invested in tells the lead what happened next to tie off all the loose ends over coffee in a monologue. That works fine as a device on the written page but this is the fucking movies. A talking head filling in the blanks is something we should have been shown, not overheard. We have befriended our new, temporary narrator enough in the second half that for the spotlight to change over to him in the final twenty minutes wouldn’t have been a difficult transition for the viewer. He has always been presented as a ‘man of action’ and a catalyst for change in the story. To end on such an inert way does rob the film of a pleasurable conclusion, even if it ironically rings true with the boy child we have watched grow up over two and half hours. The ultimate point of the tale is fear stops him from taking responsibility over his life… I think? Maybe it makes sense that he is relegated down to a secondhand spectator for his own epilogue. Even with this stumble at the finish line… The Goldfinch has plenty of melodrama and beauty to keep you entertained in an old fashioned, grand kinda way. You can imagine a Douglas Sirk or a Nicolas Ray having a field day with this over abundance of material in the fifties.


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