‘THE GOLDFINCH’ ADMIRABLY ATTEMPTS TO ADAPT DONNA TARTT’S NOVEL WITH MIXED RESULTS

“To lose something that should have been immortal. Please tell me it isn’t true.” This is what James “Hobie” Hobart (played by Jeffrey Wright) tells Ansel Elgort’s Theodore Decker in the latter half of John Crowley’s film adaptation of Donna Tartt’s novel ‘The Goldfinch.’

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‘THE GOLDFINCH’ ADMIRABLY ATTEMPTS TO ADAPT DONNA TARTT’S NOVEL WITH MIXED RESULTS

The cover of Donna Tartt’s novel, ‘The Goldfinch.’ The book was published in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2019, it was adapted into a film starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.

The cover of Donna Tartt’s novel, ‘The Goldfinch.’ The book was published in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2019, it was adapted into a film starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.

Madeline Brennan

The cover of Donna Tartt’s novel, ‘The Goldfinch.’ The book was published in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2019, it was adapted into a film starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.

Madeline Brennan

Madeline Brennan

The cover of Donna Tartt’s novel, ‘The Goldfinch.’ The book was published in 2013 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2019, it was adapted into a film starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.

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The character is speaking about the central conflict of the film: Decker’s illegal possession and eventual loss of Carel Fabritius’s last painting, for which the book is named for.

 

This quote, telling of Hobart’s devastation at the potential loss of such a beautiful piece of art, is a perfect summary of how I, an avid fan of the novel, felt about this film.

 

Somewhere in the film’s runtime of two and a half hours, Crowley lost this mammoth of a novel into a film that feels rushed. As an adaptation, this film fails, as a standalone film, it manages a stable mediocrity.

 

The biggest reason the film fails as an adaptation is simple: ‘The Goldfinch’ is an impossible book to adapt, especially to film.

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Tartt’s book spans 784 pages, is incredibly descriptive, and told entirely from Decker’s perspective, with the premise being that he is recounting the events of his life while in Amsterdam, trying to get back the very painting that has defined so much of it.

 

With this premise, fitting the novel into a two and a half hour film would be a difficult task for even the most experienced screenwriter. 

 

The better path would have been to adapt it into a miniseries, which I’m sure Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or any of the streaming juggernauts would have been more than happy to pick up, even if for the sole purpose of finding a new show to run an Emmys campaign for.

 

Secondly, Ansel Elgort is horribly miscast as Theodore Decker. Elgort is a decent actor with the ability to do great things with a role he’s fit for, but he is not fit for Decker.

 

Decker is a complex character who goes through such a significant amount of trauma and disappointment in his childhood that by the time he reaches adulthood he is a colder, more subdued figure. 

 

For a majority of his screen time Elgort portrays Decker with little to no emotion, failing to bring to life the emotional complexity of the character.

 

The role would best suit an actor able to convey emotion subtly and, when needed, with passion and verve. An actor like Timothée Chalamet would have been much better suited to the role.

 

As a standalone film, not taking into consideration the source material, the film is mildly entertaining. 

 

Unlike many critics, I did not find it slow paced or sluggish, though it does take time to become invested in the plot. After the thirty minute mark the film is much more enjoyable.

 

A high point was Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard’s dual portrayal of Decker’s childhood friend Boris. While Wolfhard struggles with the character’s Ukrainian accent, he gives the most comedic performance, getting most of the laughs in my viewing.

 

Barnard, best known for his work in British period dramas, translates Wolfhard’s Boris to adulthood remarkably well and struggles less with the accent.

 

Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Wright give decent performances with the material they’re given, but the near-perfect casting of Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, the mother of Decker’s childhood friend who develops a close bond with him, is wasted.

 

Perhaps the best performance of all is Oakes Fegley as young Theo. Unlike Elgort he successfully conveys Theo’s internal conflicts and emotions with skill many adult actors could only dream of having. 

 

In the end, John Crowley’s ‘The Goldfinch’ is a decent watch and not a waste of anyone’s time if they love dramas and failed Oscar bait. 

 

For fans of the book, I would exercise caution in viewing if your vision of what the film should be is particularly strong, as it will more than likely fail to live up to your expectations.

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