2014, PG-13, 129 mins.
2014, PG-13, 129 mins.
Colin Farrell as Peter Lake / Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames / Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly Penn / Jennifer Connelly as Virginia Gamely / William Hurt as Isaac Penn / Matt Bomer as Peter's Father / Will Smith as Judge / Kevin Durand as Cesar Tan / Eva Marie Saint as Willa (Adult) / Kevin Corrigan as Romeo Tan / Lucy Griffiths as Mrs. Lake / Graham Greene as Humpstone John
Directed by Akiva Goldsman
WINTER’S TALE is a film of unintentional silliness and unpardonable wretchedness, made all the more head scratching based on the fact that it contains multiple Oscar nominated actors that I’ve admired for years that embarrass themselves throughout its 129 minutes.
certainly see a kernel of ambitiousness with the underlining story here
– a supernatural love story that spans multiple centuries, adapted from
the 1983 novel of the same name by Mark Helprin – but the end result is
so confusing, so chaotic, and so haphazardly conceived and executed that
you gain the immediate sensation that it was all made up as they went
along. There are some that
may indeed be touched by the film’s time spanning, heart-warming
sentimentality. I was driven to frequent bouts of sarcastic laughter.
I read that
Martin Scorsese was approached to helm this adaptation, which he quickly
balked at, deeming the material unfilmable.
His instincts were right. I
have absolutely no problem with a film tackling a dense and convoluted
mythology and trying to make it all stick together (that’s sometimes a
Herculean task for any director), but Akiva Goldsman
(an Oscar winning screenwriter for A BEAUTIFUL MIND and making his
directorial debut here) seems to have no real clue how to harness the
intricate narrative fabric from the literary WINTER’S TALE.
Fantasies require ample magic and a sensation of disbelief to make
us invest in them, but Goldsman fails at giving the film a majestic,
otherworldly sweep and grandiosity. There’s
very little, if any, wit, imagination, or, for that matter, basic
narrative cohesiveness on display here.
More often than not, the actors look just befuddled.
does one even begin to describe the story of this mess of a film?
The film introduces us to the concept of a temporal traveling hero,
so to speak, which provides a beyond obvious wink to viewers that this is
indeed a work of fantasy, but Goldsman does such a terrible job of initially
establishing the who, what, when, where, and whys of the plot that viewers
will be left jaded from the beginning.
I will try my best to simplify things: The story takes place in the
past (1915) and the present in New York, with Peter Lake (Colin
Farrell) apparently having the ability to traverse between both times
without aging a day in the process. In
the past, Peter was a once-orphaned-as-a-child thief that falls into the
wrong crowd, in particular one of New York’s most vile and despotic
gangsters, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who also, shall we say, has
powers beyond mortal men. When
Peter decides to severe all ties with Pearly, the vengeful thug decides to
make him public enemy number one and orders a hit on him.
order to survive, Peter turns to petty home invasions and thievery.
One day he breaks into the house of newspaper publisher Isaac Penn
(William Hurt), but the only one home at the time is his sickly daughter,
Beverley (the luminous Jessica Brown Findlay), who’s dying of
consumption. Predictably, the
two easily fall head over heels in love with one another, despite the fact
that she’s knocking on death’s door.
Of course, their budding love is impeded by Pearly’s insistence
on capturing Peter, but Peter is granted protection from God himself in
the form of a white...magical...flying...horse (whaaaat?!) that appears at
will (or whenever Goldsman’s script deems it convenient) to save him
when things get really dicey. To
complicate matters even more, Peter finds himself in 2014 New York with
– amnesia…and with Pearly and his goon squad hot on his heels.
Destiny, it appears, keeps rolling the dice for these characters.
Viewers, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be checking their
what in the hell is this film about?
Who are these characters? What
are their motivations? How
does that magical horse appear and why?
And, dear Lord above, is that Will Smith playing Satin (simple
answer…yes!)? Okay, Pearly
is clearly an agent of hell and has dark powers and Peter, I guess,
represents the power of hope and goodness, but why do they battle it out
on the streets of New York? And
why does God do very little to partake in such a war, other than to given
Peter a magical pony and the ability to travel in time?
And, why for that matter, do people in the present day – like a
kindly librarian, played by Jennifer Connelly – never once question the
logic of how Peter has not aged in over a hundred years (she sees a turn
of the century photo of him and, presto, seems convinced of his cockamamie
abilities)? People in this
film, for lack of a better word, behave stupidly in WINTER’S TALE.
damning is that intelligent, perceptive, and empowered actors play these
dumb characters. Crowe is so
all-over-the-map in his performance that he manages to thrust himself off
of said map. Will Smith
aforementioned cameo as the Devil himself reaches levels of hammy
self-parody; scenes between himself and Crowe – as their snarl and
scream at one another, with shoddy CGI augmentation on their faces – are almost
hysterically baffling. Jennifer
Connelly achieves the impossible by playing her role relatively straight
amidst all of the strange madness around her.
Ditto for Eva Marie Saint (who turns up late in the film as a
modern day newspaper mogul that has ties to Peter in the past), as she gives
the film a dash of dignified class that it otherwise didn’t have.
Colin Farrell deserves special commendation, though, for playing
Peter with a understated sincerity and poise, even when he has to perform in unimaginably goofy scenes involving him riding a badly rendered
pixelized horse. At least he
and Findlay have some nice chemistry, even though it would have been
better suited and served in a different film altogether.
WINTER’S TALE looks good, thanks in large part to iconic cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s lush and immersive work, which really stands out in the early 19th Century New York sequences. Beyond that, WINTER’S TALE is an egregious artistic failure on most counts. It fails as a multiple hankie romantic drama. It fails as a supernatural thriller. It fails as a well-meaning fable about the redemptive power of miracles. Hell, it even fails as a pure escapist fantasy with flying horses (did I say the film has flying horses already?). When the film finally builds to a potentially action packed and emotionally intense stand-off between Peter and Pearly I found myself just chuckling at the whole uproarious ape-shit preposterousness of this film. WINTER’S TALE tries to be so many different kinds of movies and tell so many different kinds of stories – and does so without any confidence, swagger, or discipline – that I wished that God himself appeared about 30 minutes in for some divine intervention.
again, even the almighty couldn’t save this turd.