Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of quality filmmaking is solid editing.
If done properly, audiences will almost never notice the intricate amount of work it takes to cut together hours of footage, alternate camera angles and multiple takes into a single, cohesive feature film.
When things are off, a bad edit sticks out like a sore thumb. It may be a weird transition, a continuity error or even several minutes of footage that could be consolidated to make a film better that stays in for unclear reasons.
“The Goldfinch,” a theatrical adaptation of Donna Tartt’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, is poorly edited for a different reason: there’s no depth or substance to the characters and storyline.
Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half hours long, “The Goldfinch” is the rare film that’s simultaneously too long and too short to make for a quality piece of cinema.
This isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of beauty in director John Crowley’s film.
“The Goldfinch” is an exceptionally artistic film with high-minded philosophical discussions of criticism, fine art and the world of antiques; and yet the whole affair is remarkably distant and vague.
Viewers follow Theo, a 13-year-old boy traumatized by the death of his mother from a bombing he survived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After sneaking out a painting from the rubble, his life is constantly, impactfully changing because of the single portrait of a small bird.
At nearly 800 pages, Tartt’s novel is substantial enough to support a television miniseries and “The Goldfinch” would have been much better served as a six-part event on HBO or Showtime.
Motivations are rarely clear in Crowley’s film as characters often do things because they have to in order to advance the story rather than for a significant purpose.
This is most apparent in Ansel Elgort’s relatively monotonous performances as the elder Theo, which Elgort plays with a mild combination of shock, bewilderment and apathy. Though his Theo has an addiction to pain medication, Elgort vaults Theo into a constant state of malaise that keeps the character floating through situations rather than actively engaging in them.
Narratively, “The Goldfinch” doesn’t make enough good use out of a compelling turn from Nicole Kidman as the mother of a young family that takes Theo in after the attack. Her work of quiet, demure empathy is a welcome change early in the film and helps draw viewers into a film that doesn’t hold up as well when she leaves the screen.
Similarly, there are solid, yet lesser turns from Jeffrey Wright as an antique shop owner who takes Theo in, Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson as Theo’s father and future stepmother, and Finn Wolfhard as a Russian immigrant who befriends a young Theo.
But none of these performances are given enough context or character development to shine on their own and are largely wasted by the film’s haphazard, disjointed final 30 minutes.
If there’s a reason to seek out “The Goldfinch,” it’s the technically profound and stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins, who took on this project immediately after his Oscar-winning filming of “Blade Runner 2049.”
Each stroke on the color palette of his camera work is carefully chosen and crafted to match the mood of the scene as much as it enhances the natural lighting moment to moment. Even when nothing of consequence is happening on screen (as is often the case with “The Goldfinch”), Deakins always comes through with a striking visual depiction of Tartt’s words brought to life.
The only real possibility of an Academy Award nomination despite high expectations for the film as a whole prior to its release, Deakins is more likely to be recognized come awards season for his work in the yet-to-be-released World War I epic “1917” from director Sam Mendes that arrives in December.
Visually arresting but slow as molasses, “The Goldfinch” is much better conceptually as a work of art than in practice as a feature and should prove to be a film that audiences need to wait until it hits a streaming service to take a chance on.