Art-based drama ‘The Goldfinch’ feels like watching paint dry

Grief takes center stage in “The Goldfinch.”

When young Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) loses his mother during a bombing at an art museum, his life is shattered. From the wreckage, he steals a famous painting which becomes his bastion for hope as he grows into adulthood (then played by Ansel Elgort) and into a life of art forgery.

“The Goldfinch” sets its high ambitions from the get-go. It takes strides to be an effecting epic on life and emotions, but these strides fall oh-so-short.

What’s presented instead is a film that’s meandering, confusing and the biggest storytelling sin of them all: boring.

The story is split into two distinct parts, casually jumping back and forth between them. The first is Decker as a child, dealing with the aftermath of his mother’s death as he’s taken in by his estranged father.

These sections of the film are the only time things become marginally interesting. The tragedies young Theo faces manage to pull some resonant chords, but these moments tend to feel more manipulative than anything.

It’s sad, but only because it can’t help but be, not because it’s well-written. The other half of the film is an actual chore to sit through. Adult Theo and his descent into the criminal underworld of art feels forced and incredibly underdeveloped.

These scenes feel as if they were shot for another movie and edited in. There’s little flow between the alternating timeline and even less gracefulness when it comes to cutting back and forth. The time jumps are awkward, the editing messy, making a straight forward story require a lot of attention.

“The Goldfinch” also wastes a solid cast. Nicole Kiddman, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Wilson and Dennis O’Hare all make appearances and also bring nothing to the table. Performances are wooden and strange, like the actors just can’t figure out how to make the lame dialogue engaging.

“The Goldfinch” is a film that feels entirely insubstantial. There is just nothing to grab onto, nothing that sparks even a grain of interest. While the cinematography is occasionally impressive, the drama that it frames is ham-fisted and basic.

It tries to be like the portraits and antiques that often fill its scenes, something large scale and deeply moving. Instead, it’s got as much depth as a child’s watercolor painting—and not one that you’d hang up on the fridge.

mason.robert.dredge@mail.umkc.edu

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