Directed by: Akiva Goldsman
Written by: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt
The Premise: Entrusted with one single miracle to bestow on one special someone, one man overcomes the shackles of time to find her.
When master thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into a home he plans to rob, instead of removing the contents of the safe he is invited to tea. Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) has Consumption and Doctor’s give her a year and a half to live but that does not stop Peter from falling in love with her. Peter does not know it at this time but he is meant to save a woman from dying too young, with his love for her and his metaphysical responsibility he gives up the life of a Thief to be with Beverly until he can save her or she passes on.
Meanwhile, a demon in human form, is on the hunt to stop Peter from fulfilling his miracle. Regardless whether this Demon kills her, him or both is not the question, only when. And when Pearly succeeds at taking Peter down, Peter wakes up almost a hundred years later with a new found sense of purpose to find a way to get back to Beverly and save her.
The story of Peter and Beverly is a strong love story akin to the magic of fairy tales; one of love at first sight, of deep unconditional attraction that will overcome all odds. The chemistry between Farrell and Findlay is palpable; their characters are doubtless in love and at times it is more than this reviewers heart could take. It is a beautiful love that you only wish the very best for them, but just when you start to get comfortable with their storyline it is interrupted with the story of the Demon Pearly as if a bored teenager were flipping channels.
In this world, Angels and Demons are around us. Pearly is in charge of a set amount of Burroughs in the New York area and has to ask permission of Lucifer to leave his area to pursue Peter and Beverly. Lucifer, God’s once perfect angel, lives in the dark of a basement in some undisclosed part of the city. He reads and has a clairvoyant omniscience of the present and the future but tends to be following an unseen set of rules we are not informed of on how Demons affect themselves on the world around.
Fact is: the story of Peter and Beverly would have been more than enough for this movie. The lovestruck Peter desperately trying to save his new love from certain death. Where supposed folk stories about how when people die they become stars in the sky and magical flying horses are real and miracles performed by mortals are considered as powerful as Gods.
But with Russell Crowe perfunctorily snarling, barking and bashing through his lines as Pearly Soames, stopping at nothing to rend this supposed miracle from life, we are given no concrete reason for his discourse. Which is where the story begins to show its holes. Why does Pearly need to stop this miracle? Does he stop all miracles? Does he hate miracles because all Demon’s hate miracles? At no time do we learn the answers to these questions. Pearly is just a “bad guy” so as to have an antagonist for Peter to come up against. Pearly is one note throughout the story- a myopic beast meant to give us a simple, “But then…”
In another movie all of this would have worked but with the clumsy dialogue and Crowe’s laughable acting cutting in to the stronger story of Beverly and Peter this splash of cold water only cements how badly written, edited, and directed Winter’s Tale really is. Based on the book of the same name this film is a fine example of a screenwriter being too close to the source material and not fully understanding the underlying intent of the story itself. One wonders if Akiva Goldsman simply took the book changed the chapter numbers to scene numbers and removed all prose leaving just the dialogue and believed the audience will catch-on (but he read the book- we did not). And sometimes this can actually work but not here; Pearly’s passion to break Peter is such an overwhelming part of the story that neglecting to explain the minor details of what jobs the Demons are performing besides their collecting of jewels and piling dollars bills in neat little piles makes for this reviewer losing interest.
The well-read audience member will find themselves wanting compare the finer parts of this story to one of Neil Gaiman (Stardust) who makes a good living in this genre, but in the end, he does it better and does it smarter. When one creates a new world it is imperative to set up the rules of said world right up front so the audience can envelope themselves with the new and the peculiar. Instead, here we are given pieces of what seem like great ideas smashed against each other as if the writer was worried the audience would be bored had they taken the time for much needed exposition.
The film is a tiring 2 hours that works hard at playing the ‘ol bait and switch on the audience that when the first story ends you are so exhausted at having to had paid attention to so many things that invariably mean little that in the second story you feel like a runner who has just worked it up a steady incline only to get to the top to find another even bigger hill. We are Sisyphus and the boulder is the story. “Here are some characters you are going to love, pay attention- just joking, this is actual story.”
At the end of the day this is a love story and it almost works. Farrell and Findlay are likeable and charming and you want the best for them, but the demon hunter, and Lucifer bog it down so much that you simply don’t care whether the lovers are ever reunited. So when the film happens upon moments with heart such as the reunion of Peter someone from his past; or the wonderfully moving love scene between Peter and Beverly instead of being moved you wonder how someone who directed those great scenes could let the rest of the movie barely ascend above the action movie cliché the B-story truly is.
One could argue that Winter’s Tale is three movies in one: A love story, an action film, and an episode of Highway to Heaven slap-dashed together in a way that the screenwriter (or perhaps the novelist) thought they were being clever. Too many fanciful asides and not enough faith in the story makes for a tiresome slog with a few all-too-soon forgotten moments of transcendence. A real shame that such a wonderful performance by Farrell will be left unseen when this film is hidden in the bargain bins with only the most ardent fantasy and romance fans seeking it out after they have exhausted the likes of better fair.
Winter’s Tale is a story about miracles, about boundless love, and about good and evil. The unfortunate thing is the film does nothing to make any of this interesting. A handful or great performances cannot help this deeply troubled story be any more than a forgettable film at best.