It’s not that Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel “The Goldfinch” is unfilmable, but it’s more a question of, well, who would want to? Tartt’s time- and place-spanning epic ostensibly follows one spectacularly ill-fated boy (or is he?) across a tragic childhood and into an adulthood marked by love, loss, and a little bit of classic art theft. It’s wonderful on the page, but it’s also meaty, dense, twisty, and complicated. In short, tough stuff for a 120-minute runtime.
And yet “Brooklyn” and “Boy A” filmmaker John Crowley took on the task of turning it into a feature film, another complex adaptation for a director who excels at them. Bolstered by a script from Peter Straughan and featuring a stacked cast that includes Ansel Elgort as lead Theo, Oakes Fegley as the younger version of him, Sarah Paulson, Nicole Kidman, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Wilson, Aneurin Barnard, Jeffrey Wright, Ashleigh Cummings, Denis O’Hare, and Willa Fitzgerald, a first look at the final film promised a real treat for book lovers.
Trotted out during Warner Bros.’ star-studded and jam-packed CinemaCon presentation on Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas, “The Goldfinch” offered some serious cinema in between first looks at major tentpoles like “It: Chapter Two” and franchise continuations like “Joker.” The film’s first trailer seemed to do the impossible: explain a complicated coming-of-age story in an enticing way while also nodding firmly at the beloved book’s greatest joys.
For fans of Tartt’s novel, it was all there: looks at Fegley and Elgort as Theo at very different periods in his life, an introduction to beloved pal Boris (played by Wolfhard and Barnard), a story that stretches from New York to Amsterdam to Las Vegas and back, an emotional explanation of how much Theo’s mother meant to him, and a shocking sequence in which we see how exactly she was taken from him. And, yes, even that goldfinch was there: the painting that informs every inch of Theo’s life, which is set in motion after his mother is killed during an attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
And one last treat for film fans of every stripe: it was lensed by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, and it shows.
After the trailer debut, star Elgort explained his attraction to the material succinctly. “Well, I read the book and it is an epic story, really great,” he said. “And I heard they were making a movie, John Crowley directing it and Roger Deakins, who had just won the Oscar for ‘Blade Runner,’ and I knew they would be able to capture Donna Tartt’s tone, and that was so important.”
Seemingly directly speaking to the book’s fans (and perhaps some potential detractors?), Elgort added, “I hope that people find a piece of themselves in the story, and I hope that whatever drew all those people to that book will also draw them to this movie. I think they will be drawn to this movie, because they did a pretty great job capturing that tone and telling this epic story.”
Warner Bros. will open “The Goldfinch” in theaters on September 12, 2019.