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What The Rotten Tomatoes Reviews Are Saying About The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch isn't exactly flying high. 

Based on Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, The Goldfinch is racking up reviews after it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8. So far, critics really aren't loving director John Crowley's latest film. 

Centered on the life of Theodore "Theo" Decker, a boy orphaned during a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who steals the priceless painting for which the film is named, The Goldfinch spans continents and decades as it chronicles how Theo tries to protect the painting from thieves, art dealers, and the public at large while navigating life, love, success, and failure. The cast — made up of Ansel Elgort (as Theo), Oscar and Emmy winner Nicole Kidman, Emmy winner Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright (Westworld), Denis O'Hare (American Horror Story, Big Little Lies), and young successes like Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It) and Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk) — is quite stacked, but apparently, they couldn't liven up this overlong, stale film.

Adam Woodward at Little White Lies didn't mince words about The Goldfinch, calling it "cinema as taxidermy: inert, overstuffed, nowhere to go." Elsewhere in the review, he wrote, "As a cinematic viewing experience [...] The Goldfinch is a total non-event. It's as though someone has snuck into a museum undetected and cracked open an airtight cabinet containing a precious artifact, and all the oxygen in the room has rushed in, instantly and terminally decaying it. The soul has been sucked out of the source text."

Over at Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote, "The Goldfinch is this year's entry in what has become, by now, a time-honored genre: the high-toned awards-bait literary adaptation that, for all the skill and care and ambition that's been lavished on it, doesn't quite work." 

He later called The Goldfinch "a morose and downbeat movie, too lost in the maze of its designer seriousness," further writing, "It's a kind of glazed picaresque, and the closest thing it has to a reigning conflict is the guilt Theo feels over the fact that his mother's death must somehow have been his fault. It's an idea he needs to shake, but frankly it's an idea that grows tiresome; it's like watching Ordinary People [Robert Redford's Academy Award-winning 1980 film] redone as a lofty abstraction."

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy argued that The Goldfinch was simply too ambitious to begin with, and likely would have worked better in a different medium: "In this era of great longform miniseries that take whatever time is ideally required to tell the story at hand, why try to compress Donna Tartt's fabulous, far-ranging, Pulitzer Prize-winning, 784-page novel The Goldfinch into a conventional-length film?" 

Perhaps the Goldfinch cast and crew were set up to fail, McCarthy noted: "The filmmaking team, also including screenwriter Peter Straughan and the team of producers, had their hands more than full trying to figure out how to fit all these characters, and the various phases of their leading man's life, into a narrative you could consume in one sitting. In the end, there's too much good stuff missing and yet not enough to serve as a satisfying meal."

Some critics weren't quite as openly disappointed by The Goldfinch, though they didn't fully embrace it either. 

The Guardian's Benjamin Lee said right in the headline of his review that the film "settles for silver." He posited a number of questions as to why The Goldfinch didn't live up to expectations, and wasn't as good as it could have been: "Is Donna Tartt's Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Goldfinch unadaptable? Is it possible to condense 784 globetrotting pages of romance, terrorism, grief, drug addiction and art world espionage into a coherent and dramatically satisfying movie? After 149 minutes of Brooklyn director John Crowley's much-anticipated, and much-feared, attempt, the answer appears to be ... shrug emoji?"

Lee went on to describe some of the performances — specifically from Wilson and Paulson, who play Theo's low-life father and his girlfriend – as "cartoonish and arguably classist caricatures. He said that, in the end, "the propulsion that got us here doesn't really lead to a gratifying payoff, like taking a long road trip that reaches a dead end, and as the film starts to wrap up, there's not enough of a throughline to justify both the film's mammoth length and its grand sense of self." However, there were some elements of the film Lee praised, including some grounding performances from Kidman and Wright.

IGN's Chris Tilly had nicer things to say about the film, namely that "John Crowley and Peter Straughan have largely succeeded in doing justice to this beloved tome." He added, "Theo is an engaging character — for the most part well played — and his journey is both entertaining and heartbreaking. Meaning much like the painting at the centre of this tale, Theo's story both survives, and endures. despite the fragmented film's shortcomings." 

However, Tilly did ultimately wonder "if the material might have been better served as a mini-series" — which is exactly what THR's McCarthy pondered. 

It's clear that The Goldfinch isn't off to a strong start, thanks to its dense source material, out-of-place performances, and slogging pace — and it may very well go down in history as a terrible movie based on an amazing book. At this point, Crowley and his cast and crew can only hope they'll draw in fans of the book and Goldfinch newbies alike to decide for themselves. 

The Goldfinch will fly into theaters on September 13.