First Hit: In general, I liked it despite the slow pacing and the occasional, awkward movement between time.
Occasionally while watching this film, I thought of how this might have been a problematic adaptation from the novel. Because of the strengths and weaknesses of each medium, I make it a point to not read many fiction books.
Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley as the younger and Ansel Elgort and the older Theo), was traumatized early in life because as he and his mother toured a New York City museum, a bomb went off, killing his mother.
The traumatization of this event is carried throughout the film by the actors and how they respond to what is going on around them. Both the young and adult Theos are almost zombie-like at times, looking blankly at the people talking to them and responding with little emotion. What Theo uses, as a child and adult, is The Goldfinch painting he had taken during the bombing. This painting was his mother’s favorite, and it is the one thing he has left to remind himself of her and their time together.
Theo’s father Larry (Owen Wilson) is not in the young boy’s life because he drank too much and was a mean alcoholic. Because his father is not around and he’s got nowhere to go, the State puts him in the home of the Barbour’s (Boyd Gaines and Nicole Kidman). Mr. Barbour is gregarious while Mrs. Barbour is thoughtful, quiet, pragmatic, and reserved. The audience is presented scenes where we see how she is slowly becoming very fond of Theo and his relationship with her young son Andy.
Of the Barbour’s children, Andy (Ryan Foust) and Kitsey (Carly Connors as the young Kitsey and Willa Fitzgerald as the older Kitsey) are open to having Theo as part of the family. The oldest boy, Platt (Jack DiFalco and Luke Kleintank), however is a bit of a brat in his early scenes but comes to show his heart later in the film.
When the bomb exploded, Theo was standing next to Pippa (Aimee Laurence and Ashleigh Cummings) and her uncle, her primary caretaker. Pippa’s uncle was killed just as Theo’s mother was, and this circumstance creates a connection that runs deep. It was Pippa’s uncle, just before he died, that told Theo to take the Goldfinch painting after the bombing. He also gave Theo a ring and told him to deliver it to Hobie. Pippa and her uncle lived with the uncle’s antique store business partner Hobie (Jeffrey Wright).
Just as the Barbour’s were thinking of adopting Theo, Larry shows up and takes him to where he’s now living, Las Vegas. Taking him out of this safe environment and all the way to Las Vegas to live adds to Theo’s trauma. The scene when Xandra (Sarah Paulson), Larry’s partner, gives Theo a valium for this anxious plane ride to Vegas, tells a lot about the situation Theo is headed.
In Vegas, he meets another outcast student Boris (Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard). Boris is originally Ukrainian, is without a mother, and has lived all over the world because his father is a mining engineer who is also a mean drunk and gets booted out of all the jobs he takes on. They both live in a housing tract where 95% of all the houses are empty because of foreclosures, and the whole tract was built in a remote area. This is emblematic of their lives, loners together, and in the middle of nowhere.
After Larry tries and fails to get money out of Theo’s educational trust to pay off gambling debts, he gets drunk and dies in an auto accident. Quickly seeing that life with Xandra will be hell, he runs out of the house, gets on a bus, and heads back to New York City and ends up living with Hobie.
At this point during the film, we’ve seen various clips of the bombing some of them through the dreams that Theo continues to have even through adulthood. This is where the film spends most of the time from here on out.
As an adult, Theo continues hold the wrapped-up painting as solace over the loss of his mother and often, he does this while being on drugs.
Yes, there are a lot of pieces in this story, but they all are important as the film winds into the last 40 minutes. Pippa, Hobie, Kitsey, Platt, Mrs. Barbour, and especially Boris all have significant moments as Theo finally comes to grips with his life and the actions he took as a young boy and later as a grown man.
Fegley was fantastic as young Theo. His ability to be both lost and present was excellent. Elgort was perfect as the continuation of Theo into adulthood. He was able to seamlessly give me the sense that he was the older version of the young Theo. Wolfhard and Barnard were outstanding as the young and old Boris, respectively. The loyalty he showed and willingness to fix the problem he caused Theo was perfectly portrayed. Kidman was excellent as Mrs. Barbour especially as the older Mrs. Barbour when her softness and love showed through so delicately. Wilson was true to his character and enjoyable as the man trying to make his way through gambling. Wright was sublime as Hobie the antique craftsman. When he turns to Theo, after Theo had taken busses all the way from Las Vegas to NYC with a dog, and says, you both can stay as long as you want, I was deeply touched. Laurence and Cummings were wonderful as Pippa young and old respectively. When she tells Theo that if one of them fell, the other would not be able to save either of them, it was heartbreakingly sincere. Foust was superb as Theo’s close friend and companion. Peter Straughan wrote a strong script from the novel by Donna Tartt. John Crowley did an excellent job of making this complex novel and story come alive on the screen. This was a complicated story to film, but, for me it was worth it.
Overall: Unless the audience member is ready to let this introspective story unfold within themselves, then they could become frustrated with this film.