Embargoed for Friday release. ... “Winter’s Tale” is a romantic historical fantasy about miracles, but its most mysterious aspect is how a film rife with Academy Award talent – in front of and behind the camera – isn’t the least bit wondrous.
“Winter’s Tale” is a romantic historical fantasy about miracles, but its most mysterious aspect is how a film rife with Academy Award talent – in front of and behind the camera – isn’t the least bit wondrous.
In adapting Mark Helprin’s best-selling novel, Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) makes his directorial debut with a stacked deck of great actors and gorgeous cinematography. But that doesn’t stop him from clubbing us over the head with claptrap (a little goes a long way) about the universe, crossed destinies, master plans and magic. It’s all set to a romantically lush score by Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer that always tells you just how to feel.
What transpires on screen, though, is a film that keeps one-upping itself with ridiculosity. Exhibit A: Russell Crowe’s performance as a mythic boss of thugs and thieves. Exhibit B: Will Smith’s turn as Lucifer. Yes, you read that right. Exhibit C: Falling instantly in love with your home invader. How very “Labor Day.” Exhibit D: A mysterious flying white horse. The list goes on, but why spoil the fun?
The frivolity gets under way in present-day New York, with Colin Farrell’s Peter Lake mysteriously drawn to Grand Central Station in search of clues to his past. Flashback to 1845, when, as an infant, Peter is nestled into a model ship by his parents and launched into the waters surrounding Ellis Island en route to his destiny. Fast-forward to 1916, when a grown-up Peter is being pursued for being a crooked crook by Crowe’s Pearly Soames.
Along the way, Peter falls in love with the consumptive Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, the ill-fated Sybil from TV’s “Downton Abbey”), whom he meets cute while robbing her newspaper-publisher father’s (William Hurt) house. Their love story flourishes, with Pearly and his goons in hot pursuit. An old-fashioned battle of good vs. evil ensues. Their clash will continue into present day when the life of a little girl (newcomer Ripley Sobo) is on the line. Don’t do the math, it’s a futile exercise. In fact, the whole third-act has that tacked-on feel. The continuity isn’t always there, and the story doesn’t grab you enough to make the leap of faith. But, you’ll hear lots of mumbo-jumbo about moonbeams and sunbeams. Says Beverly: “The sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light!”
Hot off a terrific turn in “Saving Mr. Banks,” Farrell is at his best when he goes toe-to-toe with Hurt and makes a dashing lover for Brown Findlay in the first half of the film. He’s sweet and earnest and wears a tux well. In the second-half, he loses his romantic appeal when Goldsman turns him into a savior.
Lending support and adding gravitas just by showing up is Oscar-winner Eva Marie Saint (“On the Waterfront”). Newcomer Mckayla Twiggs is a living doll as Beverly’s young sister. Jennifer Connelly, who won an Oscar in the Goldsman-scripted “A Beautiful Mind,” doesn’t have much to do here as the mother of the sick child. Her “Beautiful Mind” co-star, Crowe, doesn’t fare much better. At least he’s not singing his lines this time out, but there is some shape-shifting. The guy can’t win.
Goldsman’s ride certainly gets long toward the end, just like this winter.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @danabarbuto.
WINTER’S TALE (PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.) Cast includes Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint and Russell Crowe. Grade: C