Hollywood makes romance look so easy. Meet for one day, or a few hours (really the time span of getting to know one another is shrinking), and fall so deeply in love that you become a changed person. So changed and moved by this love that you’ll want to will your significant other to live just by loving her. Sounds crazy. But this scenario comes to life in Winter’s Tale, the screen adaptation of the 1983 book. There’s a lot going on in this this movie, but it unfortunately falls apart in tangles of mass confusion and ridiculousness.

Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is an orphan who was raised on the streets until Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) finds him, sees his talents for robbing things, and raises him as his own. But as an adult, Peter strays away from Pearly and his gang and this angers Pearly enough to be hellbent on destroying Peter’s life no matter the cost. And Pearly has the power to do it, since he’s a demon and all.

When Peter tries to get away from him one night in 1916, a magical white horse (literally, it’s magical: the horse flies) appears and guides him away and later to a wealthy family’s house. Peter thinks the horse, whose name is Horse, is trying to get him to rob a house, but once inside, meets a young woman named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). Beverly invites him to tea, because that’s what you do when someone is trying to rob your house, and after one conversation become enamored with each other. The major downside to their romance? Beverly is terminally ill and close to death.
Pearly makes sure that Beverly meets her end, and then sets off to kill Peter, too. Only Peter doesn’t die. He lives through to the present day, but doesn’t remember who he is, where he comes from, or anything that happened to him in his past. In the present, he meets Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) and her sick daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo), a redhead just like Peter’s love. When Pearly realizes that Peter is still alive after all these years, he figures he has it all wrong. That because Beverly was Peter’s miracle, love kept him alive, and now Peter is set to be Abby’s miracle, and tries to save her life so that he can finally be with Beverly in the stars.

 

After reading the above summary for the film, it sounds a bit ridiculous in writing, but is even more so onscreen. The book, written by Mark Helprin, is already a difficult read. Filled with several stories outside of Beverly and Peter and topped with magical realism, the book alone is a hard sell for some people. Turning it into a movie proves complicated, even from first-time feature film director and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. He’s had his hits and misses in the past with screenplays such as the brilliant A Beautiful Mind and the awful Batman and Robin. So, given the source material especially, it’s obvious that adapting the book to the screen isn’t one of Goldsman’s greatest achievements.

The film asks a lot from the audience. It’s littered with magical realism, a love that evolves after one meeting, and copious amounts of lessons about destiny, fate, and your place in the world. And while some audiences might not be completely on board with all of these themes, these things can still be accepted within the scope of the film if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief completely.

However, it’s the complicated mess that is the movie and lack of any real explanation or momentum of events that might leave the audience out in the cold. There’s a moment where Peter and Pearly are fighting and Peter declares that he “doesn’t understand” what Pearly “is talking about” and that about sums up what it feels to watch this film.

It’s mainly Colin Farrell’s heartfelt and mostly sincere performance that saves this film from being completely abysmal.  Russell Crowe could have come across as more menacing if we understood the entire depth of his anger, but we never do, so his role as the bad guy really falls flat in the scope of the film. Will Smith makes an appearance in the film as the Judge of the city, AKA Lucifer, and he’s completely miscast for the role. The two scenes that he’s in feel and look really out of place and you’re left wondering his real purpose in everything.

Jessica Brown Findlay plays the innocent, sick and ready-to-die heroine well enough. Her scenes with Farrell are sweet, even if the relationship isn’t based on anything worthwhile. It still comes off as the man swooping in to try to save the poor, dying girl, who lets him into her heart in the midst of being robbed. Romance may have taken an entirely new turn that I’m not aware of, but this part of the plot really throws off any desire to want to see them together or for their story. And Jennifer Connelly’s character gets into the middle of all this chaos, but isn’t there long enough to make a huge impact, character-wise.

The movie sells itself as a love story, but in all actuality, this is only a part of the film. Peter doesn’t try to go back to save her as is suggested, nor is there anything significantly touching about their romance. The plot is all over the place and we’re given so much to ingest, that it might give you a headache to sort it all out. The magical realism doesn’t help in this case, and everything that unfolds has no weight to it, and plunges into the realm of absurdity. Winter’s Tale might try to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it’s too confusing and lacks any true depth for you to feel any of it. A complicated mess of a film.
1.5star

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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