A magical mystery mess
The fairy-tale folly on display in “Winter’s Tale” is both earnestly performed and exquisitely filmed, but it may take magical powers to resist the cynicism provoked by the awkward, wholly unconvincing screenplay.
Further suspension of belief is required, not just because the film involves time travel, life-saving kisses and a flying horse, but because “Winter’s Tale” (based on the book by Mark Helprin) involves so much talent –both in front of the camera and behind – that it is hard to believe the film is not appreciably better.
Colin Farrell (duplicating the sincerity of his lovable scamp character in “Saving Mr. Banks) is Peter Lake, an Irish orphan, part-time burglar and mechanic living in a mythical New York City in the early 20th century. While attempting to rob an elegant mansion on the Upper West Side, he stumbles upon the woman who will be the love of his life, the beautiful Beverly Penn (a radiant Jessica Brown Findlay from “Downton Abbey”). Peter soon finds out she is dying and he must travel to the present day while also warding off his (literally) demonic boss (Russell Crowe) to save her.
Is “Winter’s Tale” a melodramatic romance? A supernatural cautionary tale about the powers of good vs. evil? A fantasy wrapped in an unsolved mystery? Yes, it is all of these things. But without a confident storytelling voice much of the story feels as though it was improvised while being made.
The easiest explanation might be that “Winter’s Tale” marks the directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman, who also wrote the screenplay and must be forgiven since he has “Oscar winner” on his resume. (For the screenplay of “A Beautiful Mind.”) He convinced other Oscar winners and nominees with whom he’s worked to climb aboard his maiden voyage as a director (without reading the script, perhaps?), including Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Will Smith and the aforementioned Crowe.
One decision he made is above criticism entirely, choosing legendary cinematographer “Caleb Deschanel” (“Passion of the Christ,” “The Black Stallion”), who makes a 1915 Manhattan winter look like a magical snow globe come to life.
The ensemble of A-list stars and gorgeous photography are what you will have to focus on to appreciate “Winter’s Tale.” For others, this is the kind of eye-rolling, shallow and cloying soap opera that gives Valentine’s Day a bad name.
Your sweetheart deserves better.
Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.