(director: John Crowley; screenwriter: Peter Straughan/novel by Donna Tartt; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Kelley Dixon; music: Trevor Gureckis; cast: Ansel Elgort (Theo Decker), Oakes Fegley (Theo as a boy), Aimee Laurence (Pippa), Sarah Paulson (Xandra), Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Samantha Barbour), Finn Wolfhard (Boris), Aneurin Barnard (Boris as an adult), Luke Wilson (Larry), Jeffrey Wright (Hobie), Hailey Wist (Audrey), Boyd Gaines (Chance), (Jack DiFalco (Platt), Carly Connors (Kitsey), (Collin Shea Schirrmacher (Toddy),  Ryan Foust (Andy), Denis O’Hare (Reeve); Runtime: 149 ; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2019)

“Never can capture what made the book so beloved.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director John Crowley (Brooklyn”/”Closed Circuit”) and writer Peter Straughan badly botch adapting to the screen Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitizer Prize-winning art-mystery novel by turning it into a dreary film that seems belabored. It brings us the skimpy version of the book instead of the real thing.Though faithful to the subplots of the book but not its timetable or spirit, at 149-minutes it over extends itself and becomes a mess that never can capture what made the book so beloved. The film can never touch base with the book’s illuminating preoccupation with the question of survival, and instead becomes a long, insufferable, tedious watch slowly going nowhere.

Tartt’s 784-page novel was too much for the film to get into without seeming lost, in a book that might not be adaptable to the Big Screen. It misses not because it didn’t try, but because it had no idea how to translate the rich book experience, a novel for young adults, into a moving cinema experience.

At the age of 21 the guilt-ridden Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort, who is miscast–not able to bring the right sensitivity for the part, whose sleepy narration is a downer) is in Amsterdam after surviving an explosion eight years ago at The Metropolitan Museum of Art that claimed the life of his mother (Hailey Wist). The confused boy is trying to figure out how to get a grip on his life, now that he has suffered so much loss.

In a flashback to when he was 13, we see a mentally hurting young Theo (Oakes Fegley, thankfully a much better acted Theo) right after the NYC bombing tragedy. He has been temporarily sheltered in the home of a school friend after the incident–the wealthy Upper East Side Barbours, as the kid is now raised by their saintly but frosty art-loving matriarch (Nicole Kidman) in the same way the family’s other children are raised. But just as things are going right, Theo’s estranged alcoholic and moronic dad Larry (Luke Wilson) and his trashy uncaring new girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) surprisingly show up and take the boy off to a prefab development in suburban Las Vegas.Things there go terribly wrong for the boy and the film. In this desert setting, Theo meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), an abused Ukrainian kid living with his nasty father who teaches the wide-eyed city boy about hard drugs and criminal things. The kid tries to find himself, as confusion sets in as to his self-identity. Meanwhile his cartoonish dad and girlfriend bring a bad vibe to the desert scenes (their cheesy acting for the camera also puts a damper on the heart-felt narrative).

The uneven film moves slowly along with vignettes (some terrible, others okay). But the film slows down considerably, as it loses its vision and becomes plodding.

The studio prestige film might lack style but still looks good because of the camerawork of the great cinematographer Roger Deakins. Aside from Kidman’s commanding performance and a few of the supporting cast, I was not impressed with the supposedly talented cast. By the time the third act began, the film’s emotional drama couldn’t be sustained and I lost interest in the outcome (too many goofy plot contrivances and an incredulously horrid thriller turn were enough to make me put my thumbs down on this good book / bad film).

Its title is derived from a 17th-century painting by Carel Fabritius of the tiny bird at the Met that the boy still remembers observing from that awful day.

The Goldfinch never touched me as it should, even if it always looked appealing and promising.

REVIEWED ON 9/13/2019       GRADE: C