Directed by Akiva Goldsman
Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly
Let me preface this review by saying that Akiva Goldsman should stick to writing screenplays or producing films instead of working behind the camera. In his debut feature, Goldsman is wearing multiple hats as producer, writer and director.
The film begins in turn-of-the-century New York City, where the protagonist, Peter Lake, has a Moses-like beginning. His immigrant parents are denied admission at Ellis Island and his dad sets baby Peter adrift in New York harbor in a miniature model ship called City of Justice. Fast forward to about 30-some years and we find Peter (Colin Farrell, sporting an odd haircut) on the run from Irish gangsters led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, trying his best to mimic Farrell’s Irish accent).
Miraculously, he’s saved by a winged white horse who later doubles as his guardian angel plus transportation. All of this sounds quite enchanting on paper but the plodding pace of this film didn’t exactly stimulate me.
The horse leads Peter to a house where (inevitably) he meets the love of his life. As Peter is a burglar, he’s about to rob her mansion when the chance encounter happens. It turns out that the beautiful but frail Beverly is dying. Now I don’t know if her disease causes her to speak in some kind of poetic language but that is how she talks in this movie. I quite like Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sibyl from Downton Abbey) but the script made it hard to relate to her character and the schmaltzy-ness got on my nerves.
To top it off, I still had no clue what’s the deal with Pearly’s vengeance against Peter, and suddenly he now wants Beverly dead. He’s even more upset when Peter snatches Beverly away, thanks once again to the winged horse.
The supernatural elements of the story get weirder, not to say incomprehensible, when we meet Pearly’s boss Lucifer. Yep, you read that right, the fallen archangel himself, played by Will Smith. It’s an odd casting choice but that’s the least of this film’s problems. So the lord of all evil beings in the universe is living in a dingy tower with only a twin bed and a single light bulb?
Neither Pearly nor Lucifer are menacing nor sinister enough to make any real impact, and the whole conversation is so cringe-worthy that my mind wandered to the more interesting topic of how much Crowe and Smith had been paid. Both (as well as Jennifer Connelly) have worked with Goldsman before so I wonder if they were doing him a favor.
Farrell and Findlay do their best to sell their romance and there are some touching moments. But overall the script is too mushy to bring any sense of realism. By the time the film moves to the present day, I’m still barely invested in any of the characters and the story remains a huge mystery to me, and not in a good way. Apparently Peter is immortal as he doesn’t age a day in his life and here he meets a couple of new people, as well as someone from the past, played by Jennifer Connelly and Eva Marie Saint.
Despite the A-list ensemble’s (especially Farrell at his most earnest) best efforts to win us over, they’re all wasted here by a cloying and over-sentimental script that drags early and often. The behind-the-scene talents are also first-rate but none of them can really save this Winter’s Tale. Hans Zimmer‘s score is pleasant but it also heightens the lovey-dovey mood of the whole thing. Caleb Deschanel‘s gorgeous cinematography of New York City is a feast for the eyes, but it made my brain ache for something meaty to feast on.
The agony concludes with an ending that is utterly predictable and gratingly mawkish. There are Biblical themes of good versus evil, love, life, loss and redemption, all lost in a narrative which is neither cohesive or compelling. Plus it’s chock full of trite dialog with dreary lines about Destiny and Everything Is Connected mumbo-jumbo.
Winter’s Tale left me scratching my head. This came from the scriptwriter for A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man? Ah, but also of one of the worst ever, Batman & Robin!
Final Thoughts: All the talk about miracles, stars and magical moments amounts to a film that is devoid of magic. It’s a shame as reading the premise of the novel later on (which was altered quite a bit for the film) made me think that Mark Helprin‘s mythical story deserved so much more. We don’t get enough romance fantasy and I had been hoping for a decent night out. I wasn’t expecting one of the worst films I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Ruth Maramis writes from Minneapolis. She blogs at FlixChatter.