A strange mix of bad ideas and unrestrained access overwhelm the new film Winter’s Tale, an adaptation of the beloved novel by Mark Helprin.
The man behind this sinking ship is veteran screenwriter and now first-time director Akiva Goldsman. You would think someone with his Hollywood experience would know how to create a good movie, but the bad news is his writing credits include Batman and Robin, I, Robot and The DaVinci Code.
To be fair, the original Winter’s Tale novel is full of elaborate imagination and magical realism, two things that almost guarantee an impossible translation to the screen. Tackling this tough assignment would make any veteran filmmaker think twice, let alone a first-time director like Goldsman. So, it’s no wonder that Winter’s Tale is not a complete failure as a film, but is a strange and soulless one.
The problems start early as we’re introduced to Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a petty thief in the early 1900s who is clumsy and confused as he plots his next heist. Normally this would be a huge red flag since being clumsy and confused are things you don’t want to be when you’re a thief. But the film plays these handicaps for laughs as Peter breaks into a home and proceeds to flirt with the female occupant when he’s caught red-handed.
Flash forward a few minutes and Peter is suddenly head over heels in love with this young woman for no other reason than to drive the story forward. At this point, Winter’s Tale is silly and deadly dull but nothing that’s too unforgivable. That soon changes when Russell Crowe shows up. He plays Pearly, a man whose Irish accent is as silly as his name and the main antagonist to Peter’s quest for true love. Why does Pearly hate Peter so much? The movie never makes things clear, but a lot of it has to do with fate and inner destiny. Pretty soon demons, flying horses, and time travel to present day New York are introduced into the narrative and Winter’s Tale becomes a huge buffet of weird.
Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt and Jessica Brown Findlay all show up in supporting turns trying to salvage whatever they can, but the scatterbrained story becomes too much to contain.
There is the faint skeleton of a good movie in Winter’s Tale, a story with the promise of whimsy and unabashed love. Sadly, none of that survives in the final product, and my guess is the deadly mix of the novel’s dense material and Goldsman’s heavy-handed screenplay resulted in an under-cooked movie. It’s not romantic enough to be a gripping love story, and it doesn’t fully commit to its craziness to be a risk-taking adventure. Winter’s Tale plays it too safe and as a result appeals to no one.
Rated: PG (for violence and some sensuality)
Winter’s Tale opens in theaters on February 14, 2014.