Director: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Russell Crowe, Ripley Sobo, Mckayla Twiggs
RunTime: 1 hr 59 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Scene of Intimacy)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://www.winterstalemovie.com
Opening Day: 13 February 2014
Synopsis: Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, “Winter’s Tale” is a story of miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil. The film stars Colin Farrell (“Total Recall”), Jessica Brown Findlay (TV’s “Downton Abbey”), and Oscar® winners Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”), William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”), Eva Marie Saint (“On the Waterfront”) and Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”). “Winter’s Tale” also introduces young newcomers Ripley Sobo and Mckayla Twiggs (both from Broadway’s “Once”). The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), who also wrote the screenplay, based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Helprin.
If you don’t believe in the stuff of destiny and miracles, then you might as well not bother with ‘Winter’s Tale’. A magic-realist romance based on Mark Helprin’s 1983 bestselling novel of the same name, it spans present day Manhattan and early 20th century New York to tell a love story between a petty thief by the name of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and the daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), the latter of which also happens to be dying from consumption.
But before you think this is going to be some sappy melodrama a la a Nicholas Sparks novel, acclaimed screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut actually has a lot more going for it.
First, there is an Oliver Twist-twist (pardon the pun) to the tale. Peter’s love for Beverly earns the consternation of the malevolent crime boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who has raised Peter since boyhood as part of his criminal enterprise. It is not just Peter who time-travels; rather, Pearly’s blind pursuit of the one whom he thinks has betrayed him also spans the century. Much as this is at its heart a love story, it never hurts to have a little action now - especially when it’s Farrell and Crowe playing the hunted and the hunter respectively.
Besides also being a minor gangster saga, there is also the inimitable element of magic in the proceedings. It isn’t just coincidence that Beverly exclaims ‘The sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light!’, accompanied of course by some CG dazzle. Peter’s ability to travel through the ages is also no fluke, not least for the fact that he rides a pretty spectacular looking flying white horse with the name Athansor. Part of the mystery lies in finding out just who Peter is, seen at the start in present day riffling through a box on the roof of New York’s Grand Central station, mirrored in his own search for his true identity with the help of Jennifer Connelly’s newspaper columnist.
But it doesn’t end there, and depending on your faith, this is either where it gets interesting or plain absurd. Heaven is depicted as a place among the stars. Athansor turns out to be Peter’s guardian angel - and not the only spirit animal walking the Earth we may add. Will Smith turns up as Lucifer, more ‘Judge’ though than anything else. And perhaps most significantly, Peter discovers that he has some truly divine powers, so much so that by the time it is all over, he has become a Jesus figure. No matter the wistful or whimsical tone that Goldsman tries to achieve, how much you buy into its motifs of life, death, rebirth and the enduring power of love will ultimately determine if the magical woo-woo will come off as hocus pocus or something much more meaningful.
To his credit, Goldsman does try his best to make the fantasy enchanting. Every image that is meant to be adorned with magic comes off looking as if it were a page out of a picture book – in particular, Beverly’s abode looks like a mansion straight out of a Disney cartoon perched on the edge of a frozen lake. There is an otherworldly feel to the entire telling, and like its title suggests, one cannot deny that it does transport you to a live-action fairy tale world. And yet despite displaying a heretofore unseen visual imagination, the Academy-Award winning screenwriter of such acclaimed dramas like ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Cinderella Man’ disappoints by leaving out the weightier aspects of Helprin’s novel.
Most prominently, by fashioning it as a pretty romance, Goldsman neglects the author’s moral meditation on the meaning and purpose of justice. Helprin’s prose was rich in portraying the industrial Edwardian era style of a mythic New York City, through which the injustices of that Metropolis was vindicated with the promise of redemption and salvation through death. These are difficult to portray no doubt, but their omission leaves ultimately a watered down story that works as a fairytale romance and little more.
Nonetheless, Farrell and Findlay are never less than engaging leads, and between them share a sparkling (pun intended yet again) chemistry that lights up the scene more than Goldsman’s literal CG additions. On his own though, Farrell once again puts his roguish charm to good use, oozing sweet earnest sincerity in his performance of a bad boy who just wants a chance to be good again. He is also well-matched with Crowe’s glowering screen villain, whose imposing presence effortlessly commands your attention.
Though far from the stuff we have come to expect from Goldsman, ‘Winter’s Tale’ still works as a time-travel fantasy romance that espouses the hope that love be ageless and timeless. It might not be the thoughtful adaptation fans of the book may be expecting, but those looking for a Valentine’s Day trifle will find plenty to ogle at and be delighted about. At the very least, Goldsman uncannily balances fantasy and realism, and even though it isn’t quite magical, it promises to be a moving tale of enduring love that will sweep you off your feet.
(Nicely balancing fantasy and realism, this magical tale of love through the ages works as a sweet Valentine’s Day escapist trifle but little more)
Review by Gabriel Chong