Film Review: THE GOLDFINCH (USA 2019)

The Goldfinch Poster

A boy in New York is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family after his mother is killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


John Crowley


Peter Straughan (screenplay by), Donna Tartt (based on the novel by)

Based on the Pulitzer Price Winning book by Donna Tartte, one wishes the film would contain a more solid and credible story, but what transpires onscreen is mired by two glaring flaws (two incidents that are totally inconceivable that they destroy the entire film.

John Crowley directs with the same care and over-caution as he did in his last BROOKLYN but goes off with the pacing.  For a crime caper, the film moves more like his BROOKLYN romance drama.

Decker (Ansel Elgort) was only 13 when his mother died in a museum bombing, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day: a priceless painting of a bird chained to its perch, The Goldfinch – that he had kept from the bombing.

The film is a coming-of-age tale with criminal plots, personal secrets, and the transformative power of art thrown into the story.

The film opens with the mysterious and introverted Theodore Decker (Elgort) holed up in an Amsterdam hotel, desperate and facing a lethal threat.  His story since childhood then unfolds in layers of rash decisions and sudden betrayals.  Young Theo (Oakes Fegley) saw his privileged life with his mother shattered one day on a visit to an art museum.   In the aftermath of an attack among the masterpieces, one priceless 17th-century oil painting goes missing. What happened to the The Goldfinch? And how will its disappearance follow Theo across America throughout his whole youth and on to his Dutch hideout?  Clues are provided to the audience and it does not take a genius to put two and two together that Decker has the painting.

The two coincidental plot flaws are:

  • the coincidental re-meeting of Theo and Boris as adults in a bar out of the blue in NYC.  Just how many bars are there in NYC and how big is the city?  And the timing?
  • the over tidy Hollywood-Style happy ending where all comes too neatly in place to bring the film to a conclusion

Elgort is perfect in the role, showing both the charm and darker shadows that have marked his best work. Kidman is as compelling as ever in every frame. And a stellar cast of actors — Finn Wolfhard, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson — turn up as characters who further complicate Theo’s jagged path.

The big plus of the film is that Goldfinch was shot by the legendary, Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, who gives it a polish appropriate to its high-stakes, high-crime story. 



Film Review: WONDERSTRUCK (USA 2017

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Wonderstruck Poster

The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection.


Todd Haynes


Brian Selznick (based on the book by), Brian Selznick (screenplay by)

Runaway kids escaping to a strange, new town in search of a parent.  This subject has always been a favourite for films and plays, the most notable being the recent Tony Award winning THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, in which a boy travels to London to find his father.  IN WONDERSTRUCK, a young deaf autistic boy leaves home after his librarian mother is killed in a car accident.  All he has is a little clue of a museum.  He takes off with some cash obtained from his Aunt Jennie (Michelle Williams), gets his wallet snatched but eventually finds out the truth about his father, who he initially knew nothing about.

WONDERSTRUCK appears like a a typical story but director Haynes (CAROL, POISON and his best movie SAFE FROM HEAVEN) decides to do it different.  The openly gay director has always dealt with isolated loner characters who has to come to terms with some truth.  In WONDERSTRUCK, because the subject is deaf, Haynes blacks out all words, so that the film feels like a silent movie with just background music.  The film is alternatively shot in colour and black and white for the flashbacks (in the year 1927).  It seems a good tactic but it does not all work.  For one, the film ends up very difficult to follow.  With no dialogue, one has to figure out who is whom, how the subjects are related and basically what is going on with the plot.  It does not help that the film intercuts two stories set fifty years apart, switching frequently between them.  Each tells the story of a child’s quest.  In 1927, Rose (Millicent Simmonds) runs away from her father’s New Jersey home to find her idol, the actress Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore). In 1977, recently orphaned Ben (Oakes Fegley) runs away from his Minnesota home in search of his father.  Moore plays two roles – the older Rose as well as Lillian Mayhew which confuses matters even more.

The reason the film is called WONDERSTRUCK is revealed towards the end of the film.  The film’s sets are amazing, special mention to be made of the New York City model though details are not really shown.

Director Haynes leaves the audience much in the dark for the first half of the film.  Though one might, upon considerable thought put all the jigsaw pieces together, it is a very frustrating process.  Director Haynes, gives the full explanation during the last third of the film, what then is the purpose?  Is it to illustrate to the audience the inconveniences of being deaf?

The cast largely of unknowns (excepting Moore, Michelle Williams in a token role and Tom Noonan) including Fegley do an ok job, noting exceptional.

Though credit should be given to Haynes for his non-conforming storytelling techniques, it does not really work.  It comes together at the end, as if Haynes gave up and decided that it is safer to tell it all the usual way.



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