starring Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Nicole Kidman
screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the novel by Donna Tartt
directed by John Crowley
by Angelo Muredda How do you solve a problem like The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's infinitely Instagrammable, stridently "literary" Pulitzer Prize winner? That's the riddle behind Brooklyn helmer John Crowley's flop-sweating adaptation, which strives to be faithful to an unruly text but has little formal bombast of its own to justify the second pass. Chasing after a serious tome of dubious merit, the sort of thing that has been called Dickensian largely because it involves a male orphan at the mercy of kind strangers, the nouveau Goldfinch--not to be confused with the so-named painting its protagonist snatches from the rubble of a terrorist attack at the Met in both versions--gets all the warmed-over thematic pronouncements and outré stock characters of the novel and none of the confidence. That makes it one of the most conspicuously flat prestige failures in recent memory, a film only a festival audience paying for the honour of seeing Nicole Kidman gingerly waving up to the balcony could love.
This geographic, temporal, and generic hopscotching--which starts in Stephen Daldry territory and lands in the violent art world intrigue of a Tom Ripley novel before racing back to Daldry, all while estranged from world-historical events that might clarify the timeline--is at first only confusing and then, once we're trapped with Elgort's uncanny replica of Theo, enervating. Unconvincing to begin with in the novel, a third-act pivot to praising the romantic heroism of people who save delicate things from oblivion feels even more grafted on here after such an aimless, picaresque set-up that has nothing much to say about either artists or patrons. A soporific affair where good actors in questionable makeup stand and deliver undigested passages from the Martian textual country from which they come, The Goldfinch falls just shy of Brechtian alienation, pulling its emotional weight strictly through literal song cues that shrug out what people are supposedly feeling, from "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to, most incredibly, "Everything in Its Right Place." If only. Programme: Gala Presentations