Novel adaptations are, like a lot of things, a bit of a thorny prospect. On the one hand there are successful adaptations, such as the Twilight Saga or the Harry Potter books, but on the other hand, there are the less successful adaptations, like Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby or the Golden Compass.
A lot of this has to do with translating the non-visual and long-form medium of the novel to the very much visual and shorter form storytelling of the big screen. A recurring issue of novel adaptations seems to be that they try and squeeze too much of the novels content into a shorter space of film (although the opposite does sometimes apply, looking at you, Hobbit trilogy).
So, The Goldfinch then, I must admit I haven’t really head of this book, as it were, until the film adaptation was advertised. According to my sources (the twin scholars of Wikipedia and Google) it is a 2013 American novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, although I’m fairly certain the film adaptation won’t be earning any such plaudits.
The Goldfinch is a coming-of-age story about Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort), a 13-year-old boy who survived the terrorist attack at a local gallery and the eponymous painting which he recovers from the scene of the attack. The narrative focuses on Theodore’s attempts to navigate his life after his mother perished in the explosion.
Sometimes, a film can be accomplished in its filmmaking, but still can make a film critic very angry. It is not the kind of crimes against film that say, Michael Bay commits, but it is still is grievous a sin to make is boring a movie as The Goldfinch as it is to make a film as stupid as Mr Bay’s output.
Using the word “narrative” in the story summation is giving the film much more credit than it deserves, as The Goldfinch doesn’t really have one, well not really, it meanders about making vague points and threatening to get started on narrative, but never really takes off to anything meaningful. It feels so unbearably pleased with itself but it manages to weave a narrative quilt so full of holes that you could stick your head through it and call it a poncho.
As I say, the broad filmmaking strokes are visually pleasing to look at and well put together, but nothing about The Goldfinch gives me any emotional reaction whatsoever. The characters seem to glide from scene to scene with no motivation to speak of, just this tissue-thin plot link to the painting, which when thought about hard enough, doesn’t make any sense that the characters are still worrying about this, the problems could easily be solved by just talking to each other, but since they are characters in a film, they seem incapable of doing this.
The performances are the most disappointing element of The Goldfinch, Ansel Elgort, an actor who I previously admired in the Baby Driver, seems wouldn’t this interested in his character (as are the audience, to be fair to him) but his woodenness is a mere drop in the ocean when compared to Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Samantha Barbour. Somewhat surprisingly given her experience, Kidman always looks like a deer in the headlights, a fish out of water, so to speak, she never seems comfortable in any scene and she’s about as wooden as some of the furniture that Theodore sells in the antique shop he works in.
There doesn’t seem to be anything overall redeeming about the goldfinch sure it looks nice and is well put together but there is nothing to keep an audience interested in its two-and-a-half hour narrative that goes on for seemingly four hours, seriously I’ve watched films that are an hour longer that are much better paced than this film, and if anyone was particularly interested in the film, then they will well and truly be put off by the films ending, which is seemingly a massive middle finger to every viewer who hoped for satisfying conclusion to the web of confusing and disjointed narrative that it was concocting. It deflates the film, and seeps out the last few drops of goodwill anyone ever had towards the film.
Somewhere in this mess lies a good idea for a for a film, unfortunately it was handled by people of such pretentiousness that the films narrative seems to disappear in and out of its own backside for its 2 1/2 hour run time. It’s mystery is uninteresting and bland, it’s characters are poorly evolved and wooden, but it’s biggest sin is that it seems so pleased with itself and its own intelligence, but it forgets to have an interesting narrative, or anything interesting about it to make anyone care a jot about this film, which, thankfully, in a few weeks, no one will.