Review: The Goldfinch — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Director John Crowley has made a very quiet film about terrorist explosions, stolen paintings, and ne’er-do-well fathers, with a protagonist so compelling we are quite willing to forgive his unsavory moments.

Still from The Goldfinch.
(Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

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The Goldfinch

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 2 hours 29 minutes

Stars: Finn Wolfhard, Nicole Kidman, Ansel Elgort, Luke Wilson

Writer: Peter Straughan (based on Donna Tartt’s novel)

Director: John Crowley


As he did in his previous film, Brooklyn, director John Crowley has made a very quiet film about explosive emotions.

In this case Crowley also throws in a literal explosion, although he manages to depict even that catastrophe in his trademark muted manner. It is this thoughtful restraint that makes The Goldfinch as much a work of art as the painting at its center.

Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley of Pete’s Dragon) is a boy with problems that seem straight out of David Copperfield: His father abandons his mother, whose death Theodore witnesses in a terrorist explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Young Theodore is taken in, for a time, by a loving and wealthy Manhattan family, but soon he is claimed by his ne’er-do-well dad, who is clearly more interested in cashing in on the boy’s inheritance than in making up for lost parenting time. Soon Theodore is a street urchin, on the run from his father’s pummeling fists, and he ends up living above the workshop of a kindly antique dealer.

Then there is that goldfinch. In the calamitous aftermath of the explosion, Theodore absentmindedly tucks under his arm a slightly damaged art work — a priceless painting of a goldfinch, created by a treasured Dutch master.

That painting — a physical link between Theodore and his dead mother — follows the boy through childhood, stashed under his bed, unnoticed by the grownups who come and go through his life.

And a crazy quilt of characters they are: There’s the dewy-eyed Earth mother who takes him in (Nicole Kidman, irresistible as always), that scoundrel dad (beady-eyed Luke Wilson), his eye candy wife (Sarah Paulson), and the sweet natured antique dealer (Westworld’s masterfully understated Jeffrey Wright). Other characters we first meet as children, then again as young adults after Theodore has grown up, where he is played by winsomely handsome Ansel Elgort.

That’s quite a swirl of characters, almost all of whom are so finely defined they at times jockey for too much of our attention. But director Crowley and his screenwriter Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — another quiet movie masterpiece) keep our focus and affection on Theodore. Even when we discover some less than savory things about the young man in the later stages, we are more than happy to forgive him, because we understand him so well.


Featured Image: Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. 


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