MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
One of the discussions that has been around ever since the movies started using books as source material is the simple question: Is the movie as good as the book? I actually think that the recent film version of Stephen King’s It – no matter how cheesy – is better than the book, which has become dated since its publication.
When you deal with a work of actual literature in which words matter, it is a different story. That is why there will never be a satisfying film version of War and Peace or Lolita (and this has been attempted by world-renowned filmmakers).
Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch (not quite literature but rather a literary potboiler) takes 800 pages of small print to tell the story of Theodore Decker (played by Oakes Fegley as a young adolescent and Ansel Elgort as an adult), orphaned as a child after an explosion at an art museum kills many innocent people, including his mother. Before he leaves the museum, Theo takes a painting of a goldfinch that he had been observing before the bomb detonated and slips it into his backpack. The painting will serve not only as a reminder of Theo’s loss and grief, but as one of two plot devices (the other one is a ring that is handed to Theo by a dying man) that will include others along the way.
The Goldfinch is perhaps best described as a Charles Dickens novel filled solely with people of privilege. Theo is initially cared for by Mr. and Mrs. Barbour (Boyd Gaines and Nicole Kidman), parents of a classmate. Theo will also be befriended and mentored by James Hobart (Jeffrey Wright), a kindhearted antique dealer whose lessons in furniture restoration will prove to have disastrous consequences. Along the way, Theo will be reunited with his absent father (Luke Wilson) and become friends with a drug abusing Russian kid (Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard). Life lessons will be learned and occasional romantic interests will evolve, including a relationship with a girl who was standing alongside Theo in the museum at the time of the bombing.
The book was a real page-turner, creating sympathetic and flawed characters struggling with grief and displacement. While the painting that Theo purloined from the museum connects him with beauty and remembrance, its monetary value attracts unsavory types who only value it for financial gain.
This production includes a capable director, a top-flight cast, a lovely musical score, and one of cinema’s best directors of photography, Roger Deakins. And still, at 2 ½ hours long, the movie rushes through its story. A tragic misstep is the movie’s disregard for the painting during its middle section. By the time the artwork reentered the adventure, I had stopped caring about it.
The Goldfinch is not a terrible film and there are visual moments that I will remember for a long time, including its closing shot. And – in spite of its four pitchforks – the movie is non-exploitative and compassionate towards its characters. It’s a near-miss that still looks better on a big screen. If you are intrigued, head to a theater posthaste. The opening week box office was the worst opening for a wide-release film ever. This bird will be flying out of theaters real soon.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: A visually stunning diversion.
Four pitchforks: Much swearing; intense, brief violence, including attempted suicide; heavy drug and alcohol use; deception.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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