Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell star in the supernatural drama Winter's Tale! But does this tale of angels, demons and thieves ascend to Heaven or fall straight to Hell? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: Akiva Goldsman Written By: Akiva Goldsman; Based on the book by Mark Helprin Runtime: 118 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Peter Lake - Colin Farrell Pearly Soames - Russell Crowe Beverly Penn - Jessica Brown Findlay Isaac Penn - William Hurt Virginia Gamely - Jennifer Connelly Abby - Ripley Sobo Young Willa - Mckayla Twiggs Adult Willa - Eva Marie Saint Cecil Mature - Maurice Jones Romeo Tan - Kevin Corrigan Cesar Tan - Kevin Durand Peterís Father - Matt Bomer Peterís Mother - Lucy Griffiths
When I first saw the trailer for Winterís Tale, I didn't know what to think. It seemed like this weird, yet romantic story about love across time with a slight supernatural aspect. Watching the first fifteen minutes or so of the film in a theater, I still didn't know what to make of what was unfolding before my eyes. Around the time one can sort of comprehend what Academy Award-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is going for in his directorial debut, itís a little bit too late. And by that time, the movie has left the station and gone off the rails, and there is no turning back for one of the most mind-boggling cinematic experiences in recent memory. Depending on how things go, Winterís Tale could very well be the best, ďso bad itís goodĒ moviegoing experience of the year.
The story follows young Peter Lake (Farrell) in 1914 New York, a thief who was tragically abandoned by his parents during (Matt Bomer and Lucy Griffiths) their emigration to the United States. His parents were not granted approval into the country due to his fatherís medical issues. Peter grows up and becomes a thief for a gang of hoodlums led by the salty Irishman, Pearly Soames (Crowe). None of this is established though because right after the prologue involving Peterís parents, heís running for his life from Pearlyís gang. Heís saved by a white stallion that has magical powers. And Pearlyís eyes eerily glow when he sees that Peter has found the horse.
On top of that there is the comely young high society girl, Beverly Penn (Findlay), daughter of a newspaper editor, Isaac Penn (Hurt). Beverly is unfortunately dying from an eerie form of consumption that requires her to keep her body as cold as possible, lest she burn up all the snow around her. In the process of trying to score and leave the city, Peter comes upon her home to rob it after her family has already left to prepare their townhouse, the Coheeries, for her arrival. Peter finds Beverly playing Brahms on the piano and decides not to rob her. The two converse and are instantly smitten. This is bad news for Pearly because this could be the work of miracles and angels, which is not good for his side. To put it plainly, Pearly is a demon, and his job is to create misery and suffering throughout New York. He has to prevent miracles from happening and creating stars in the sky or some such.
Based on a book by Mark Halprin, Goldsman attempts to adapt a story filled with all sorts of metaphysical, new age philosophy and ideas. Itís difficult attempting this on film because heís not able execute this material in a coherent, comprehensible fashion. In fact, the movie is a clunky mess. Goldsman may be the writer behind Batman & Robin, but he also has a great deal of hits heís written and produced on his resume. This speaks of how he got such a huge cast put together in such a bizarre, out there story. Like Pearly does to an angel during the film, Goldsman called in his marks to many performersí whose careers he helped in the past.
What the movie really is not is a romantic love story about true love across time, but it more or less comes off as a lecture on a mish-mash of religious and metaphysical ideas of what happens when we die, angels and demons, order and chaos, etc. The dialogue is often hilarious in the most unintentional way, meaning the movie induces laughter when itís not supposed to. The studio was likely trepidatious about this story, considering there is a lot of tacked-on narration and hand-holding dialogue and exposition that only further serves to dig the story into a bigger hole. A good chunk of Findlayís dialogue sounds like text from the metaphysics section at Barnes & Noble, and it only serves to undercut her character. Her narration and voiceover sounds so weird and abstract, it never appears to match or underscore the story being told onscreen.
Now while the movie was unintentionally hilarious, after Russell Crowe demons out and murders a waiter, one had no idea what the movie would throw at you next. Thankfully, the hits continued in the form of a tremendous cameo sequence with a big name movie star whose nickname rhymes with Dig Silly playing Pearlyís boss. It was another bizarre sequence that sticks out so much it takes you completely out of the movie but is also so downright bad and insane that itís funny at the same time. Suddenly, you want to see another big star or a big starís son to walk into the movie as the man upstairs.
The bizarreness didnít stop there, though. The movie is based on a book that was published in 1983. After Beverly is lost, Pearly tosses Peter over a bridge. He gets out of the drink, and itís still 1914. However he becomes an amnesiac and spends the next 98 years as a vagrant with no memory. He never ages over the course of these 98 years. He spends his time drawing an image of a girl with red hair (seemingly Beverly) with chalk in the park before he meets Virgina Gamely (Connelly) and her sickly daughter, Abby (Sobo). So of course Virginia is intrigued by Peter and helps him learn about who he is and finds pictures of him in 1914. Then, Peter learns that the newspaper Virginia writes food columns for is owned by Beverlyís baby sister Willa, who inherited her fatherís newspaper and runs it in 2014. Willa is played in the present day by 89-year-old Eva Marie Saint, and yeah the math just doesn't work. Sheíd have to be at least 106. The problem is the book was written and published over 30 years ago, so it would've made sense for an Eva Marie Saint type to be playing an elderly Willa at that point. But they maintained this tremendous leap in logic lest the idyllic, horse and buggy romantic period of the 1910ís be removed.
To give another idea of how clunky this movie is, there is a poorly choreographed fight scene about halfway through in which Peter and his magical steed confront Pearly and his gang. Peter has no intention of winning. Pearly has at least 20-30 men with him armed to the teeth with spears and swords. Pearly sets them on the attack. They surround Peter with their sharp accouterments, and instead of making them living pin cushions, a couple dudes whip out bolas and trip up the horse and Peter. And then? The tiny net! Letís see, you brought spears, swords, knives, and probably guns to a fight against one thief and a horseÖand you use a bola and a tiny net to subdue them. Itís just a clumsy, awkward scene.
The actors, while all talented, are extremely miscast in this story. Farrell can actually be a good performer. He did a great job as P.L. Travers struggling, alcoholic father, Travers Goff, in Saving Mr. Banks. But heís nearly 40 playing a character meant to be a young man of about 20-21, and itís simply not believable. And then thereís the Ms. Saint, who is still incredibly lovely and magnetic, playing someone who should be in her 100ís and would not realistically be running a large newspaper anymore. Jennifer Connelly, another Academy Award-winner, also has one of the most hilarious reactions in the movie. When Peter is trying to explain what his purpose is and what is happening to Abby, she almost coquettishly and coyly turns her head to the side and basically sighs, ďThis is crazy.Ē That type of reaction mightíve been acceptable if Connelly was playing some sort of insane psychopath. A realistic reaction of a protective single mother with a sick child would probably not be soÖlow-key. At that point, I suddenly wondered if this movie was one giant prank or an elaborate episode of Punkíd because the movie was suddenly starting to border on the territory of Tommy WiseauísThe Room in sheer absurdity.
Not to bag on the movie entirely because it does have its good points. Hans Zimmer's provides a solid, affecting musical score. The production design and period sets all look quite marvelous and impressive. The parts set around 1914 New York are very nicely framed and shot to the credit of Goldsman and his cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. As bizarre and weird as this movie and Crowe's character is, Pearly is definitely full of cheesy goodness. Crowe is in full scene-chewing mode here and at his most corny best. While everything going on was quite confusing, Crowe being this demonic force of nature worked as an anchor of sorts because after he literally turns into a demon and murders a waiter for not serving him spotted owl, you had no idea what he was going to say or do next. Also, don't correct him if he calls the magical horse a "dag," or when he goes back to calling it a "horse." Even though it's far from his best work, Crowe's performance is easily one of the highlights of this film.
The 411: Iíve not read Mark Helprinís book, but from my understanding itís very long and there is a lot of backstory that is left out for the movie. There are some stories that really do not lend themselves to film, and Winterís Tale was likely one of them. Iíll give Goldsman credit in the respect of trying to do something different, but this movie is like when John Boorman did Zardoz after Deliverance. Trying to incorporate bizarre metaphysical themes and mixing them with religious ones onscreen was just not a cogent mix. Now you might see this with your significant other on Valentine's Day and actually be taken in by the romance of the two leads and the nice settings, but the final product is far from being some epic romance across time. For fans of seeing movies that are so bad they are good, this is in your territory for a good, old fashioned B-movie experience on a huge budget.