Saturday 30 July 2016

Movie Review: Winter's Tale (2014)

A century-spanning fantasy romantic drama, Winter's Tale combines a love story with an eternal battle between good and evil, with plenty of supernatural elements thrown in. Attempting to be profound, the film is a hopeless mess.

In New York of 1916, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), having survived been set adrift in a small boat by his parents in 1895 after they were rejected as immigrants, attempts to escape a street gang led by the demon Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). A white horse that can fly helps Peter's getaway, and eventually leads him to the door of the sickly Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), her rich father Isaac (William Hurt), and younger sister Willa.

Peter and Beverly fall in love, while Pearly pleads with his boss Lucifer (Will Smith) for permission to put a stop to their magical romance. Peter stays one step ahead of Pearly, but the relationship with Beverly suffers, and Peter lands in New York of 2014, where his story will continue.

Based on a book by Mark Helprin adapted and directed by Akiva Goldsman, Winter's Tale may have worked well on the written page, but is an unmitigated disaster on the screen. The film's ambition far exceeds its cinematic abilities, and comes across as fairy tale for children being repackaged as a serious romantic drama for adults, and falling into a vacuum of confused and morose nothingness.

The story demands natural acceptance of flying white horses, demons on the loose but with turf restrictions, Lucifer holding court in New York City, and plenty of romanticized bumf about miracles, destiny and people turning into literal stars. The material may have had a chance to succeed with a whimsical light touch, but Goldsman goes the ultra serious route, delivering a grim, dour and boring two hours.

Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Will Smith generally embarrass themselves in roles where anything goes since there are no familiar rules in this world. Farrell's character exists as a baby in 1895 and is still going strong in 2014, but never expresses any emotion other than grim displeasure. Crowe as a demon seems obsessed with Peter but Goldsman does not pause to explain why a petty thief is such a danger to a demon. Smith sits back and reflects on a sidetracked career, the devil reduced to dealing with the machinations of a fledgling romance between a burglar and a frail woman.

Jessica Brown Findlay portrays the tragically sick but otherwise perfect vision of a woman who fulfills every superficial man's dream of beauty and tenderness with no depth of character necessary. Meanwhile, Jennifer Connelly and Eve Marie Saint appear in the latter 2014 chapter, and seem genuinely confused about their roles in the story.

Buckling under its own weight of needless solemnity, Winter's Tale is better left untold.

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