With a strong cast and a story about true love, time travel, good versus evil and a magical horse, it's hard to imagine how Winter's Tale could be anything other than an exciting, inspirational and thought-provoking film — but it isn’t.
The movie is based on the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin — not to be confused with William Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale — and the adaptation mishandles the material, becoming an vapid slog about shallow characters, a poor mix of real-world and fairy-tale logic and an unbelievable romance and plot.
Set primarily in 1916 Manhattan, the movie stars Colin Farrell as Peter Lake, a burglar who spends his time stealing from the rich and running away from a former associate, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). One day, he enters the house of the Penn family — having seen them leave by carriage — only to run into a young woman with tuberculosis, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). They fall instantly in love.
For a good part of Winter's Tale, we watch the two hang out and do nothing of consequence. We don't learn about them, they don't grow and they don't do anything interesting. What follows is revealed in the trailer but I figure it counts as a spoiler. To put it simply: time travel takes Peter to 2014. If you want more than that, watch the trailer.
The picture's ultimate desire is to tell us that Peter’s story is just one of billions, that everyone and everything is interconnected and that the universe believes everyone is special. Miracles happen — sometimes because of events hundreds of years in the making. That's the message, but it's delivered as if no one involved in the movie believes it is true.
The number of times I rolled my eyes while watching Winter's Tale reached double digits — the story is unbelievable even at the best of times. In order to buy into the absurd premise you have to be completely enamoured with it from the start. The majority of the audience will still laugh and smirk, but secretly wish something better was on screen.
Winter's Tale isn't without merit. The production design is fantastic. Hans Zimmer's score is beautiful. If you focus less on the dialogue and more on the music, you'll have a better time at the theatre. And all scenes, except two fist fights, are shot very well.
The acting is fine. Colin Farrell is still trying to establish himself as a straight male lead and, while he's better in comedic or secondary roles, he works out well here. Jessica Brown Findlay, who is the only English-accented person in her character’s family for whatever reason, is lovely. And Russell Crowe is fun as the villain.
Will Smith has a cameo that, when he shows up, completely removes any and all immersion you might have had in the movie. Eva Marie Saint is underutilized with only a couple of scenes where she plays a 104-year-old woman who gets along on her own and runs a newspaper — no, seriously.
Winter's Tale fails far more often than it succeeds. Its story is unbelievable and not told very effectively. It has no understanding of subtlety. Its characters are shallow, which prevents their romance from working. And while it tries to mix the real with the supernatural, it doesn't do it in a way that makes any sense. It looks good and has a great score, but it's too long — particularly in its middle section — and far too lacking to be worth seeing.