The Goldfinch

                The Pulitzer-prize winning book was extremely well-crafted; the movie not so much.  It has a way of skipping around the time sequence that leaves the viewer feeling disjointed and disoriented.  Perhaps because most of the characters are that way as well.

                Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) is a studious-looking lad who lives in New York City with his Mom.  Dad has left, and isn’t in touch at all.  This becomes even more poignant when Mom happens to get blown away, literally, in a terrorist attack.  Theo and his Mom were wandering around a museum at the time, really just to kill time (a pundit’s foreshadowing).  It seems Theo and his Mom were actually on the way to his school, to talk to his principal about being caught smoking in the boy’s room (insert sound track here).

                When they ask a dazed and bewildered Theo where he’d like to go, he mentions a kid from school, who really isn’t like you would think of a “best friend,” but since a friend in need is a friend indeed, Theo is welcomed at the Barbour’s house.  They’re not exactly the idyllic family, either.  Their oldest son is rebellious, the Dad speaks of little except the wonders of sailing the open sea, and the Mom (played with portentous affectation by Nicole Kidman) can’t seem to bubble out of her own emotional distance.

                Then events take another left turn when Theo’s Dad (played by Luke Wilson) suddenly shows up, floozie girlfriend in tow, ready to bring Theo back home with him to Las Vegas.  It turns out that Theo’s reluctance to leave the Barbours’ formal but familiar abode was good instinct on his part.  The house in Vegas sits astride the desert, surrounded by foreclosures.  The Dad’s life is a wasteland, as well, some kind of failed gambler and wannabe actor with a drinking problem; not exactly a nurturing environment for Theo.  Worse, he befriends a goth teenager with a weird accent, Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who introduces him to drinking and drugs.  And all the little accompanying deceptions.

                Somehow Theo makes it back to New York, where he returns to the only place he ever really felt welcome:  an antique furniture store, where the kindly proprietor had been showing him the trade (think of a warm-hearted Geppetto with a fresh-faced Pinocchio).  Except now that Theo is thoroughly tainted, it’s a small step to cutting some corners and misrepresenting the authenticity of antiques to unsuspecting buyers. 

                Swirling in the mist of all these hazy remembrances is the painting, The Goldfinch, valued for its rarity, and its unique history of surviving catastrophe.  Meanwhile, Theo revisits the Barbours, whose situation has changed dramatically.  Yes, there's a hint at romance, but it's emotionally stunted, as well.  Eventually, as if fated, Theo and Boris meet again by happenstance, but their perfidy has escalated from juvenile to adult.

                There’s hardly anybody to root for, even though Ansel Elgort, as the older Theo, looks innocent enough.  It’s difficult to get emotionally attached to an obscure 17th-century Dutch painting, either.  But in “The Goldfinch,” the painting is all that manages to endure unscathed.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association