“The Goldfinch”–Art and Loss

Goldfinch (2020), based upon Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, tells the story of  a young boy, Theo ( the astonishing Oakes Fegley), who is walking through galleries with his beloved mother at the  Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They gaze at a Dutch Master painting of a chained bird, the Goldfinch,  when a terrorist bomb goes off. Theo’s mother dies and he escapes the rubble, clutching the 17th-century masterpiece and a dying man’s insistence that he take his ring.  The little boy’s life will change dramatically over the course of the film.

With his mother dead and his father a deadbeat, Theo is thrown into two worlds: The first in an  Upper East Side Barbour family led by a matriarch (Nicole Kidman), followed by the Las Vegas gambling underworld of his dad and Theo’s teenage friend Boris.  Both worlds have an irrevocable impact on Theo’s life. Random and unforeseen events, even tragedies, shape Theo into someone he  wouldn’t otherwise be.  

As one would expect from a novel with several plots to propel the characters’ arcs into surprising dramatic turning points,   Goldfinch, for the most part,  manages to hold the viewer’s interest.   Some scenes in the first half are a bit slow, but the second half of the film turns into a crime thriller.

The adult Theo (Ansel Elgort from “Baby Driver”), who is the narrator, does not rise to the heartbreaking performance of the young Oakes Fegley.   And Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Wright as Hobie, –Theo’s refuge and loving father figure– are as good as they always are, subtle and understated.   

This is a movie with deeply flawed characters.  Viewers who can appreciate the destructive elements  of lies, secrets, and betrayal will understand that this is a story about the loss and grief of a young child, and the young adult’s journey towards healing, with the promise of love and forgiveness.  This film kept me watching until the end.

Note: I believe the  critics judged this movie a little too harshly.  I did not read the book so I was not influenced by a comparison with Tartt’s novel.  However, the two media are radically different and I have never felt that the psychological interior lives portrayed in a novel can be presented visually on the screen in the same way that the abstraction of the narrative is created in the mind of the reader. 

“Baby Driver”–For Millennials

Baby Driver movie review
[Originally published for Blog Critics, July 3, 2017]

The highly praised feature film Baby Driver, starring newcomer Ansel Elgort as Baby, tells the story of a millenial car driver getting in and out of trouble while trying to capture the love of his life. Baby drives fast and furiously, shifting gears and tapping tunes he hears on this iPod (yes, an iPod) on his steering wheel while waitng for the criminal types he chauffeurs around to complete their heists–robbing banks and the post office.

Baby’s boss, Doc, (the incomparable Kevin Spacey in a role not deserving of his talent) is owed a debt from Baby, providing the motivation for the young getaway driver’s awful choices in job options and companions. One of the criminals, Buddy, (played by Jon Hamm, again, a waste of this actor’s abilities), seems to empathize with Baby at times, instead of humiliating him. A psychopathological maniac, Bats (Jamie Foxx, what were you thinking?), provides much of the gratuitous gore. A kindly foster father (played by C J Jones) offers one of the only heartbeats indicating humanity.

Baby Driver is first and foremost, about, sensational car chases and these are some of the most choreographed this viewer has ever seen. The cars rev up to mostly 70’s music with preposterous outcomes and perfect timing for comic effect. Furthermore, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with his iPod, providing killer timing and the graceful rhythms his body dances to while walking, weaving in and out of the crowd as if driving on the streets of Atlanta.

A car-centric crime drama, with the actors timing their movements to the soundtrack, Baby Driver features constant, often glamorized violence. There are several mass shootings, with machine-gun deaths choreographed to music. You’ll also see several car accidents with splintering glass and bloody dead bodies, sudden deaths, blood, and gore. Many of the characters eventually die sudden, terrible deaths. Female characters are stereotypes, ogled by both the characters and the camera.

While this movie will continue to receive accolades and become a box office hit (released June 28), its target demographic–millennial guys–may be sufficient to gather some award nominations. The main actor, Ansel Elgort, holds the viewer’s attention, a babyfaced Patrick Swayze, who will almost certainly have more challenging roles offered in the future. Similar to “Drive”, Baby Driver has less story and convincing dialog. I would not recommend this one to non-millennial viewers. We are the wrong demographic.