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'The Goldfinch': Nicole Kidman Ages Well in an Artful Drama

Movie meets some of the challenges in adapting Pulitzer-winning novel

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours 29 minutes

Stars: Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright

Director: John Crowley

En español | Even though it's centered on Carel Fabritius’ revered 1654 painting of a goldfinch, this adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning doorstop best seller by Donna Tartt, 55, is no masterpiece. But it's not without pleasures.

Like the novel, the drama presents the long and winding story of young Manhattanite Theodore Decker (Pete's Dragon's Oakes Fegley, who grows up into Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort). The book's haunting beginning is a fatal explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Theo has brought his mother to delay a trip to the principal's office. She's killed in the bombing.

Theo will be defined by this traumatic incident, where he simultaneously loses his beloved parent; meets a red-haired music prodigy named Pippa (Aimee Laurence), who ends up becoming his one true unrequited love; and pinches the delicate Dutch masterpiece.

This terrible, awful, no-good day launches the sensitive boy on a pilgrimage into the world of antiques with surrogate father figure Hobie (a warm and grounded Jeffrey Wright, 53), and the Upper East Side enclave of rich matriarch Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman, 52). And then it's off to Las Vegas, where he's reclaimed by his dissolute father (Luke Wilson).

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Dense with plot, The Goldfinch is difficult to adapt. As directed by John Crowley (Brooklyn), 50, with a screenplay by Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), 51, the movie tries to synthesize and simplify the 784-page novel's huge chunks of interlocking narrative. In what is a clear improvement, the museum bombing doesn't unfurl immediately but is laced throughout the film, adding suspense.

Elgort charms as the preppy chameleon and melds seamlessly with his younger version. As the erudite and tender Mrs. Barbour, Kidman ages wisely and well, donning wigs and wrinkly makeup to show a woman who must overcome personal tragedy and find a reason to love and live.

That said, there are many loose threads that make this movie more of a muddle for those who haven't read the book (or CliffsNotes). Pippa, a significant character in the novel, twinkles in and out, along with the Barbour children, who are sketchily introduced only to have a significant impact in the movie's final third. There are multiple scenes of young Theo drinking and doing drugs in Vegas, which could have been collapsed for more impact and economy of storytelling.

Yet, despite flaws, the movie intelligently captures the novel's intertwining themes: grief and guilt, love and loss, the redemptive power of art, and the complicated web of relationships that define a unique piece of artwork — the life of a man, so much a work in progress, and so often stuck in the past.

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