The Goldfinch


‘…a meticulous,well-mounted adaptation that deserves an appreciative audience…’

Always keen to court a bit of controversy, but let’s start with this; everything you’ve heard about The Goldfinch is wrong. Or at least, the slew of negative articles about John Crowley’s adaptation of Donna Tartt’s bestseller only tell part of the story. Those who are unfamiliar with Tartt’s uniquely porcelain prose, or her wonderfully wandering, lyrical storytelling style, must find a film version of The Goldfinch must be a confounding experience, and one that provides a rare opportunity to take a sky kick at corporate behemoth Amazon, whose Amazon Studios label co-produced this film. But amongst the articles crowing about the potential amount of money lost, and gawping at film-makers who dare to turn their vision to a critique of white privilege, there’s a secret truth about Crowley’s film; it’s a meticulous,well-mounted adaptation that deserves an appreciative audience.

The Goldfinch is about a boy, Theodore Decker, played by Oakes Fegley and then by Angel Elgort. At the age of 13, Decker sees his mother killed in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and staggers from the chaos with a copy of a rare painting of a Goldfinch in his rucksack. Despite gravitating towards the mother of a friend (Nicole Kidman) and an antiques dealer (Jeffrey Wright), Decker is sent in Dickensian fashion to stay with his errant father (Luke Wilson) and his partner (Sarah Paulson) in a semi-constructed suburb of Las Vegas. A drug-addled friendship with a young Russian (Stranger Things’ star Finn Wolfhard) provides Decker with some much-needed relief, but the painting remains a secret, a connection with his mother that Decker finds impossible to let go of.

Condensing a 600 page novel into a script is a tough assignment, and Peter Straughan’s work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Wolf Hall marked him out as a perfect candidate for the job. He finds an ideal ally in cinematographer Roger Deakins, who brings a stark clarity to the film, with fuzzy, buzzing lights in the background suggesting another world just out of reach. And Crowley is a uniquely sensitive director, able to capture the uncertainty of Decker as a boy and a young adult, and to make his struggle with grief accessible and empathetic.

Sensation seekers need not apply for a finely wrought film like The Goldfinch; as with the book,  there’s no explanation for the bombing itself, and the resolution is deliberately satisfying in a thematic rather than a crowd-pleasing way. Opening against the super-commercial Hustlers, one of the few adult orientated films of 2019, was probably the final nail in the coffin for The Goldfinch theatrically, but those who ignore the general disapproval may well be surprised when they find this on streaming; it’s a first rate adaptation of a very tricky book.


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  1. I hate to contradict you on your own blog (we all know how much I respect you and your reviews and treat appropriately), but since this is only a tangential contradiction, I feel deep inside of myself that it’s ok.
    You state that it’s not easy to condense a 600 page book into a script. In fact, it is VERY easy. Get rid of all the empty, useless and pretentious twaddle, remove the self-referential navel gazing and voila, you’re down to about 50 pages. Easy peasy….

    • If I could write like Donna Tartt, then I’d take offence at this and offer to a) burn your house down or b) use your skull as a goblet. This is a great book, and the film isn’t bad either. Better than Ellery Queen anyway…but yet, when PT Anderson adapted Inherent Vice, he started by cutting everything but the dialogue. That’s not a bad way to start…

      • Anyone can navel gaze for 600 pages. Teenagers do it all the time on their tik-toks, or whatever they use now.

        I won’t argue about the Tart vs the Queen. You won’t hear me saying Queen is good….

                  • There CAN only be one. Just like there is only ONE Highlander movie, thank goodness! I can only imagine that if they tried to do more Highlander movies it would be the equivalent of a 600 page monstrosity of teen navel gazing…..
                    Waaaaaaaait a second, is there an immortal running around in this movie?

  2. Problem here was coincidence – in book and film. In a city of a gazillion people you just happen to be walking down the street when… I enjoyed the book but not the film. It’s not the first blockbuster to be filmed – check out GWTW, The Godfather etc – but it doesn’t translate and I thought Elgort in particular was weak.

  3. I will confess that I’m embarrassed I’ve never seen this. Why? I read Donna Tart’s The Secret History many years ago and it’s no exaggeration to say I adored it. Some things you love at the time and they fade, but TSH has stayed with me for decades. And yet….when the Goldfinch came out (the novel) I was unduly influeneced by all the reviews that basically called it a yawn. And then the reviews of the film were similar.

    I should know to trust my own judgement! This is the push I need to tackle both and make up my own mind.

    • Happy to provide a push! The Secret History was brilliant, an amazing debut book. Loved The Little Things too, for all its sprawl. Her unique style is hard to translate to cinema, but I think The Goldfinch does a great job of finding visual analogues for her style. Critics circled quickly to give this a kicking, but I think it’s a superb adaptation, and Tartt’s many fans should ignore the critical kicking it got. Knowling that this is not an action or mystery film should help, and if you’re a Tartt fan, it’s essential viewing! What do critics know?

    • Me too, and like you The Secret History is a book that blew my mind the first time I read it. I’ve often thought about reading The Goldfinch but, as you say, the negative reviews put me off. Also its intimidating length if I’m being honest. Now I’m really curious to both read the book and watch the movie.

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