Despite what you may have heard, The Goldfinch is not a disaster. But it's certainly not the formidable awards contender it seemed at first glance. At most, the film's gorgeous cinematography (from master Roger Deakins) and haunting score (by the relatively unknown Trevor Gureckis) will be considered. Otherwise, there's plenty to admire, but nothing to love.
Oakes Fegley (the Pete's Dragon remake) plays Theo, a boy who survives a terrorist attack at a museum. His mother (Hailey Wist) did not, and the rest of his childhood is spent in homes that are not his own, where he never truly feels like he belongs. The first act of the film follows the tentative acceptance he feels with the Barbours, the wealthy family of his classmate (Ryan Foust). Nicole Kidman is great as usual as the matriarch, who grows perhaps a bit too attached to Theo.
Their time together is cut short by the re-emergence of Theo's deadbeat father (Luke Wilson, easily giving his best performance ever), a two-bit con artist with a drug-addicted girlfriend (Sarah Paulson). They drag him back to their dead-end Vegas suburb, where theirs is the only house in the neighborhood not in foreclosure. They really aren't fit to be parents. They have two modes: abusive and apathetic. But at least Theo has Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who's in a similar situation. Their friendship, forged in a haze of drinking and drugs, is probably the best stretch of the movie.
But this is the problem with adapting an 800-page novel in a two-and-a-half-hour movie: There's a mountain of plot and dozens of characters to get through, and there's still an hour to go. Jumping ahead 15 years or so, Theo is now an adult (played by Ansel Elgort) and a successful antique dealer with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), who took him in after he fled from Vegas. He's in a sham of a relationship and addicted to drugs, and that's just the least of his problems. So much happens from here in such a short amount of time that it blows past before it can make an impact.
In fact, that's the biggest problem with the film as a whole. It's well-crafted, but there's absolutely no emotional connection. For a protagonist to whom so many emotionally overwhelming things happen, shouldn't the movie make some sort of impact? The film throws several twists in the final stretch, but it can't make up for how the film trudged along until then.
So while the technical aspects of The Goldfinch are stunning, and the acting is good across the board, it doesn't come together to make a work of art.