Winter’s Tale is a hallucination of a film. It is a prime example that even fantasy storytelling needs to build some kind of foundation for belief before one can attempt to make an audience watch, say, a white horse suddenly sprout wings and fly over 1915 New York City.
Written, directed and produced by Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), Winter’s Tale is adapted from the 1983 novel written by Mark Helprin. And while the premise is enticing—a period romance fraught with tragedy and time travel—it unfortunately fails to deliver on multiple levels.
Winter’s Tale stars Colin Farrell as Peter, a cheeky and charming thief who is running from a gang of thugs, led by an evil demon lord, Pearly (Russell Crowe). After a mysterious white horse appears and saves his life, Peter is led straight into the path of a beautiful and wealthy young woman, Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay of TV’s Downton Abbey). Beverly is wild and sweet, and more tragically, dying of “the fever,” tuberculosis. For Peter, it is love at first sight, and his life takes on new purpose as he pursues her with his entire being.
The romance is only part of the tale, however. There is an underlying plot of good versus evil; angels, demons and spirit guides drift in and out of the storyline clumsily. Then, there is the modern-day aspect, as well, which is perhaps the film’s least interesting aspect all together.
The lead actors Farrell and Findlay carry an undeniable chemistry that teases and baits the audience. But while viewers may dearly want to be swept up in the romantic storyline, the poor writing, effects and production design continuously come crashing into play, destroying any delicate strands of believability. Overall, the “magic” of the film is too obvious, and the morals the filmmakers are trying to convey insult the audience by smacking them over the head.
Perhaps most unfortunate is the performance of Russell Crowe, a masterful actor who is directed to be an awkward, one-dimensional, confused mass of a villain. Similarly, William Hurt as Beverly’s father is molded into a pathetic shadow of the truly skilled performer he can be (and has been) in other, better, roles.
The best part of this film is the tender performance of lovers Farrell and Findlay. There are a few moments, particularly near the opening, when it feels almost as though the actors went off script and created their own magical world, and it is one that did not require a green screen. Perhaps if their simple story had been more prevalent and the magic more understated, the film would have been better.
Instead, after a nearly two-hour run time, Winter’s Tale simply leaves too many questions unanswered, the primary being, “What were they thinking?”
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Writers: Akiva Goldsman; Mark Helprin (novel)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2014