Despite visual appeal, fantasy film doesn’t do the genre justice
By Ian Murphy 02/20/2014
Directed by Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay
Rated PG-13 for violence
1 hr. 58 min.
These days, when fantasy movies are mentioned, the recent films of Peter Jackson spring to mind. And it’s easy to see why. The Lord of the Rings franchise is epic — sweeping fantasy tales told on a grand scale. There are also fantasy movies, however that slide subtly under the radar, humble in dimension but no less magical. Winter’s Tale is one of those films . . . almost.
The story is set in New York over the course of a century, with most of the events taking place in the early 1900s. From the first frame, the Edwardian feel of an America that was, permeates the atmosphere. A young immigrant couple enters Ellis Island, only to be turned away when medical examiners determine that they have a communicable disease. Instead of taking their newly born son with them back to Europe, they steal a small, replica boat and set him adrift in it as a latter day Moses, hoping someone will find the baby and raise it in the land of the free.
The baby is the protagonist Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), who grows up to be the best thief in New York City. Unsure of his roots, he falls in with a nefarious and shadowy group of well-dressed villains led by the scarred and intimidating Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a gang he soon falls out of favor with. After a magical horse rescues Peter from retribution at the hands of his now ex-cohorts, he decides to rob one last mansion before skipping town.
Mid-robbery, he stumbles across the physically frail but fiery-spirited Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) who, while vibrant, is dying of consumption. The two fall in love and while Peter tries to escape his past and the persistent stalking of Pearly, they hide out with her family at their large estate just past the city’s border. Pearly cannot go past the boundaries of the five burrows and must use outside forces to conduct his murderous plots for revenge against Peter, who he feels betrayed him. A series of dramatic twists and turns follow, all leading to New York in the present day, where Peter must fulfill his destiny, which has been hidden from him, but bound to happen, all along.
Akiva Goldsman makes his directorial debut with this film. He is best known as a producer of I Am Legend, A Beautiful Mind and I Am Robot. This would explain the presence of Russell Crowe and, to a lesser extent, Will Smith and Jennifer Connelly (both in roles that amount to nothing more than extended cameos). Goldsmith is a talented filmmaker, and the first half of the film is full of wonder — well-crafted and interesting. Sadly, this is the only reason most will find to stick around through the second half of the picture, which can only be described as muddled at best. The battle between good and evil is reduced to the cliché “God vs. Satan” tussle we have all seen before.
Goldsman, who also penned the adapted screenplay, can’t seem to find a specific direction for this wayward cinematic journey. At least he decided to allow Farrell to use his native Irish brogue, as the actor’s attempts at any other accents have been laughable at best. Crowe is more than efficient as the villain, but it is Findlay who steals the show with her spot-on portrayal of a young woman doomed by disease but unafraid of her fate. She shines with a wonderful combination of naiveté, delicate beauty and an understated strength.
Winter’s Tale is based on the critically acclaimed 1983 novel of the same name by Mark Helprin. While the novel format clearly allows more room for character/plot development, something was lost in the adaptation to the screen. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, a lucid translation from print to screen is lacking in Winter’s Tale and leaves the audience with a murky sense of confusion, albeit a very pretty one.
Ian Murphy is a recent addition to the VCReporter freelance roster. He enjoys sharing his opinion on Screenpicks.com and with whoever sits next to him at the bar.