Movie review / ‘The Goldfinch’ (M)

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Nicole Kidman as Mrs Barbour and Ansel Elgort as Theo Decker in “The Goldfinch”.

“The Goldfinch” (M) *** and a half

WHAT attribute of the human condition was Donna Tartt exploring in the novel that won her the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction?

Not having read that book, I must rely on Peter Straughan’s adaptation of it for director John Crowley to transform into moving images and sounds. 

It begins slowly, when 13-year-old Theo (Oakes Fegley) goes to live with foster parents after his mother’s death in a terrorist bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Mrs Barbour (Nicole Kidman) brings Theo up as one of her own, until the boy’s biological father arrives to claim him. Theo’s life undergoes a seachange, from a wealthy home to an empty project development in a treeless desert.

In his teens, Theo makes friends with older refugee boy Boris (Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard as an adult). A decade later, Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques trader, a profession learned as the apprentice of Hobie (Jeffrey Wright). In one of the film’s many flashbacks, the film explains how Theo came to possess a small painting of a goldfinch chained to its perch, painted in 1654 by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius (and now in reality in a major Dutch gallery).

So where does the painting fit in? Wrapped in newspaper, carried in a canvas bag, unseen, it has been Theo’s constant companion since a stranger gave it to him immediately after the bombing. Now somebody has tracked it down and wants Theo to hand it over. Boris re-appears. The dramatic momentum begins to increase. The wait becomes worthwhile.

With a reputed budget of $US45 million, “The Goldfinch” has bombed in the US, perhaps because it is too long or not exciting enough for the American mass audience. Indeed, it takes time to develop momentum, but when that happened, it had me hooked. 

The top-grade acting did full justice to a dramatis personae that made sense. The propositions in the narrative were credible. After sitting alone for 149 minutes, I came away satisfied that it well serves whatever objective Ms Tartt had in mind when she began writing the book.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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"The Goldfinch" (M) *** and a half
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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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