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Columns Eleanor Ringel Cater

‘The Goldfinch” – despite talented cast, movie is inert and dull

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

If “The Maltese Falcon” is the stuff that dreams are made of, “The Goldfinch” is the stuff that dreck is made of.

Donna’s Tartt’s sprawling Dickensian novel was a favorite with critics and book clubs alike. In some ways, it’s the sort of movie Hollywood used to make in its sleep: prestigious, densely plotted, with panoply of colorful characters.

A scene from “The Goldfinch”

But “The Goldfinch” more or less just sits there, circling back to a central incident: 13-year-old Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) and his mom are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at the titular painting, when a terrorist bomb goes off. The mother is among those killed and dust-covered, shell-shocked Theo, is shipped to the Upper East Side to stay with the gracious Barbour family (he goes to school with one of the kids).

The family, especially the serenely beautiful Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman), warms to him and he to them. That’s when his absentee bum of a dad (Luke Wilson) turns up and takes him off to Foreclosureville, Nevada, where he lives with his gum-snapping sweetie, Xandra (Sarah Paulson).

“The Goldfinch” movie poster

Yes, reduced circumstances, as Dickens might say, but there is one bright spot. Theo is befriended by Boris (“Stranger Things’” arresting  Finn Wolfhard), an eccentric Ukrainian kid.  The two will cross paths again as adults, played by “Baby Driver’s’ Ansel Elgort (Theo) and Ameurin Barnard (Boris).

Other important characters drifting through include Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), an antiques dealer who becomes a surrogate father to the young Theo, Andy (Ryan Foust), the nerdy little Barbour kid who brings Theo into his family, and Pippa (Ashleigh Cummings ), a red-headed girl about Theo’s age whose life is also shattered by the explosion.  On the other side of the camera is more talent: cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer K.K. Barrett.

But no matter how many A-Listers director John Crowley (“Brooklyn”) brings in, “The Goldfinch” remains inert and dull. One wonders if the material would’ve been better served as a limited mini-series. It certainly doesn’t work as a two-and-a-half hour movie.


Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.


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  1. Jeff Joslin September 17, 2019 10:19 am

    Did we see the same movie? I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (I’ve seen at least 40).Report

  2. Brainstar8 September 22, 2019 8:58 pm

    At about halfway through the highly acclaimed book, I stopped reading. It was a disjointed slog. I stopped caring about what happened to the characters.Report


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