MOVIE BUFF-ET: Faulty story choices weigh down ‘The Goldfinch’

Nicole Kidman, Boyd Gaines, and Oakes Fegley in The Goldfinch / Warner Bros.

Great source material, a talented cast, and an artful crew doesn’t always add up to a wonderful movie.

The latest case in point is “The Goldfinch,” a film directed by John Crowley and inspired by Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name.

It would seem Tartt’s novel was ripe for a film adaptation, but movies and novels are two totally different forms, and no matter how deft a screenwriter is, it’s a hard chore to condense an 800-page novel down to a two-hour and 29-minute movie.

Screenwriter Peter Straughan and Crowley — as talented as they may be — failed to make enough choices when deciding to pare down the novel for the film. Instead of leaning into a couple of aspects of the novel, the pair offer a long series of vignettes that amount to too much for the movie to contain and still hold the audience’s interest.

In trying to include so much, the films lacks a hook and the necessary clarity to keep the audience’s attention.

Despite the beautiful camera work of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, the movie becomes a slog through a seemingly endless swamp before offering an underwhelming conclusion that left me thinking, oh well.

The film is about a Theo (Ansel Elgort and Oakes Fegley) whose mother is killed during a terrorist attack while the two are visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the confusion of the aftermath of the attack, 13-year-old Theo steals one of the last remaining paintings of artist Carel Fabritius, “The Goldfinch.”

Theo goes to live with family of his friend Andy, the Barbours, because his dad Larry (Luke Wilson) is in rehab. Theo becomes enamored with Andy’s uptight mother Samantha (Nicole Kidman) who shows him great kindness despite her cool exterior.

While living with the Barbours, Theo befriends a recovering fellow survivor of the the attack named Pipa (Ashleigh Cummings/Aimee Laurence) through an antique dealer Hobie (Jeffery Wright), who becomes Theo’s mentor and later his business associate. Theo instantly falls for Pipa.

No doubt, Pratt is a fan of Charles Dickens.

Soon after, Theo’s detoxed dad shows up with his prostitute girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) to reunite with his son so the trio can relocate to Las Vegas as a family.

While in Vegas, Theo becomes friends with a young Ukrainian emigre Boris (Finn Wolfhard) who introduces him to drugs and alcohol. Theo in turn confides in Boris that he stole The Goldfinch. The combination of Boris knowing Theo’s secret mixed with the drugs and alcohol complicates Theo’s life into adulthood, pushing him further into darkness.

The plot synopsis may sound interesting, but the execution drains all the life out of the story. Going into the theater, I had high hopes for the movie, but it turned out to be significantly disappointing and boring experience.

No doubt, all involved took a noble stab at making a thoughtful and interesting movie, but their efforts failed to mesh. Maybe the source material would work better as a series?

(R) 2 hr. 29 min.
Grade: D

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Hustlers(R) 1 hr. 49 min. (watch trailer)
  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Bentonville Skylight

  • The Goldfinch(R) 2 hr. 29 min. (watch trailer)
  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne

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Classic Corner – Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and DeForest Kelley in Star Trek: The Motion Picture / Paramount Pictures

Fifty years ago the TV series “Star Trek” made its final first-run voyage due to cancelation after three seasons.

However, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy never truly left their faithful viewers because the program embarked on a seemingly never-ending syndicated television mission just two months later. The series has been broadcast on some TV station somewhere ever since.

The popularity the show lacked as part of NBC prime-time lineup, it gained playing in the afternoon and early evenings for kids and sci-fi aficionados. The Stark Trek kids in the 1970s replaced the Monster Kids of the late 1950s and the 1960s, at least until George Lucas redefined the film and licensing industries with his mega hit “Star Wars” in 1977.

It’s interesting that Lucas never would have gotten his Star Wars franchise off the ground if not for the popularity of “Star Trek” in syndication, and Star Trek never would have morphed into a movie franchise without the success of “Star Wars.”

Spurred on by Star Wars’ success, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry got the Starship Enterprise back in flight, but the visionary producer did not want to make an action fantasy like Lucas. He and director Robert Wise —“The Body Snatcher” (1945), “The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), “West Side Story” (1961), “The Sound of Music” (1965) — leaned more toward “2001: A Space Odyssey” than “Flash Gordon.”

The result was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” a stunning-looking film that failed to capture the wonder, suspense, and action that kept so many young fans glued to their to their couches after school in the 1970s.

With its long, slow, and ultimately tedious shots of the Enterprise, it’s clear Roddenberry and Wise forgot, it was the human drama that made Trek a cult favorite, not special effects no matter how splendid they were in their day.

“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is a long, pretentious movie, the kind where your rump feels every second of its 2-hour and 25-minute running time.

As a 12-year-old, I was bored to sleep watching the film in the theater with my older brother. I felt lucky he woke me up to go home instead of leaving me there to suffer, watching the movie again.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Star Trek, particularly the original series. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy reside alongside Tarzan, Superman, The Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett, Zorro, and Robin Hood as favorite heroes of my childhood, but even they could not save this movie that veered so far off the mark.

I’ve watched “Star Trek:The Motion Picture” since I slept through it way back in 1979. While I get where Wise and Roddenberry were aiming with the movie, it’s still boring. Yeah, the V’Ger/Voyager angle is clever, but it wasn’t enough to make me care.

The good thing is that the movie made just enough money for Paramount to continue the franchise with several fine sequels that are well worth revisiting or seeing for the first time, such as “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” and “Star Trek VI: Undiscovered Country.”

So why write about such a boring movie?

Some people actually like or even love this movie. It is interesting to see the characters 10 years later, but mostly I chose to write about it because the Malo Razorback Cinema is holding two showings of it this week at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday in celebration of its 40th anniversary.

If you’re going to be bored watching a movie, you might as well be bored watching it on the biggest screen available.