A young man still dealing with the traumatic loss of his mother hides a secret, then turns to art forgery.
Based on the Donna Tartt novel of the same name, the film makes a few changes from the book – the most obvious being the chronology. The book was linear, beginning with the accident which kills Theo’s mother, then following him through his childhood into early adulthood. The film makes an attempt at telling the story in a non-continuous fashion, jumping between a few months as a teenager, and seemingly a few months as an adult – and it doesn’t work at all.
The characterisation of pretty much everybody was extremely inconsistent, making it even harder to reconcile the idea that the teen Theo (Oakes Fegley) was the same person as the adult version (Ansel Elgort). There didn’t appear to be an obvious reason as to why Theo would have become the man he did, and as an adult, he was detestable. It was very difficult to feel any sympathy for him, which in turn made it harder to care about what happened to him. At least there was some attempt at development in his case; the most development given to the rest of the characters seemed to be restricted to the varying knitted jumpers and cardigans they wear.
The film was also directionless until about half way through – but by that stage, interest in the film had been lost. Rather than feeling like threads were weaving together, it seemed more like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck. They also introduce an obviously significant character at this stage – the breath of fresh air Boris (Finn Wolfhard); but it seemed too late to be adding more characters into the mix. Given this character’s eventual significance to the plot, it was an odd choice to put off introducing his character until that point.
The script was another huge problem; the dialogue in particular was cliche and trite. The majority of the actors did a good job with what they were given, but they ultimately couldn’t rescue the film. The notable exception was Ansel Elgort, who was handed a character which was thoroughly unlikeable; however, his performance opposite actors such as Nicole Kidman was notably subpar.
One of the greatest issues, however, was the sexism running throughout the film. Every single female character was defined entirely by how she exists around Theo, and very few were given much characterisation (though this was true of the film as a whole) – the worst example of this being his mother. It is a common trope for the death of a (female) loved one to be the motivation for a main (male) character’s pain, but in The Goldfinch, we constantly see his mother leaving him in the gallery before her death, and don’t even see her face until the very end of the film. All of the women in his life are objects with no agency.
The takeaway from this film was supposed to be about impermanence, and making our mark on the world; instead, the main message is probably how important the role of Child Protective Services can be.
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