Directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn, Boy A) and written for the screen by Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), The Goldfinch is a hurried adaptation of an art drama-turned-crime film, managing only to muddle its source material into a hollow, empty shell. This also happens to be the theme of the book it's based on. Even with an overly long runtime, it can't seem to capture either the magic or the art that made the original interesting, thought-provoking, and fun.
Straughan adapts Donna Tartt's 2014 Pulitzer prize-winning fiction book of the same name as best as one can, cutting down 784 pages to 144 minutes. Although the heart of the story remains the same, the remapping designed to add mystery and suspense makes it frustratingly slow to get ample information, while condensing the story seems rushed. Crowley seems to have chosen all of the obviously cinematic moments from the book, but it's as if the spine is ripped out and the pieces shaken up into something less tangible, a jumble of would-be epic saga turns into a confusing blend of flavors which sour the palate.
When a tween boy named Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he stands for too long in front of his mother's favorite painting called The Goldfinch so that he can stare at a young redhead named Pippa (Aimee Laurence). His mother wanders into an adjoining area when she falls victim to a terrorist's bomb. Scrambling away from the museum and covered in debris, Theo arrives at the incredibly wealthy Barbour residence, with a painting-sized package hidden in his backpack. During this trying time, he manages to use a signet ring to connect with his instant girl crush Pippa and her guardian (Jeffrey Wright), an antique dealer.
Theo's school friend's rich family takes him in, and keen to his loss, Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) wants to adopt him. However, his birth father (Luke Wilson) shows up at just the right moment to sabotage this effort, taking his son out West to the outskirts of Las Vegas, where he meets his new best friend, Boris (Finn Wolfhard). And yet, this movie surprisingly opens with an older version of Theo (Ansel Elgort) as a handsome drug addict on the brink of suicide, unsure of how to piece together the fabric of his life in the wake of having lost his mother and feeling responsible for it.
The level of coincidence throughout The Goldfinch is high, and its brisk dealing with sensitive details elevates a sense of urgency that seemingly goes nowhere, despite the romp across the world and back. There's too much to say in too little time, and the time is simultaneously both mismanaged and unsuccessfully used as a plot device to warp back and forth through major events.
A beautiful, hollow film, the tentative way in which The Goldfinch is told doesn't give it the legs it needs to stand on its own as either art or action. Fine performances across the board and a high production value can't save this train wreck, which seems like a lost child pandering for an Oscar.