I only saw Winter’s Tale because there was nothing else showing at that time. To be fair, I did start watching the movie 10 minutes in and I did leave 30 minutes early. But, the impression that the movie imparted makes me refuse to pay for a ticket to rewatch it properly. I also have not read the book it was based off. So bear with my disjointed, uninformed review. Despite this, I feel I can give a fair assessment by referencing my consistent smothered laughter throughout the entire viewing. This would be a great audience reaction… except, Winter’s Tale is meant to be a romantic-drama.
A supernatural world is lurking below the surface of New York City. In 1916, the place is rife with demons posing as gangsters fighting to prevent humans from using the miracles they are each born with. Peter Lake is an orphaned thief who was raised by the pseudo-gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). Eventually, Peter escapes Pearly’s gang and continues to rob houses on his own. Peter wants to escape the city, but Pearly is fast on his tail as he wreaks his revenge. Luckily, Peter is gifted a white horse, (aptly called) Horse. Horse is his guardian angel and leads Peter to the mansion of a beautiful, intelligent and incurably sick girl, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). After an awkward attempt to rob her house, Peter and Beverly fall in love (in 5 minutes flat). Pearly is still pursuing Peter and by association, Beverly too. Peter whisks Beverly away to her “summer” house at the Lake of Coheeries where the rest of her family are. Thanks to a surprise cameo by Lucifer (Will Smith), one of Lucifer’s angels poisons Beverly. She dies immediately after making love to Peter inside her tent, atop the roof of the mansion. Peter is distraught. He manages to survive another attack made by Pearly’s gang but loses Horse in the process. Peter forgets his life and wanders the streets of New York for the next hundred years. Cut to 2014, Peter briefly meets a girl named Abby (Ripley Sobo), who has cancer, and her mother, Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly). Slowly Peter regains his memory and realises he must use his miracle to save Abby. But with Pearly (remodeled as an investment banker in a profound comment on society) closing in on Peter, this is not an easy feat.
The synopsis of Winter’s Tale is confusing to say the least. The film doesn’t help much either (and I double checked, other reviewers were confused too). Contextualising is apparently not necessary for Akiva Goldsman. Everyday New Yorkers appear to be oblivious to the existence of the demons, yet it seems that each human has a magical ability of their own – to perform a miracle. What makes Peter so special? Nothing it seems. He just happens to fall in love with a girl his Horse set him up with. At some point it was established that Peter has a miracle he can use, and as the antagonist, it is Pearly’s duty to prevent the miracle from taking place. Was Pearly’s motivation to catch Peter one of revenge? Or to stop this miracle from happening? Or both? As a moviegoer who generally has a strong grasp of plot and relationships, I was lost. Why does Peter not age? Why do Pearly’s gemstones show a layout of New York City when exposed to light? Why does “Lucifer” make a pointless (yet hilarious) appearance in the film? Why does Peter lose his memory? Did thieves in the 1900s always have terrible undercuts? Why does Russell Crowe’s face twitch so much? These are questions that keep me awake at night.
You can kind of sense that movie would have been a great book. There’s nothing I like more than an integrated-fantasy novel. It gives a sense of wonder to the mundane. Unfortunately, none of this came through in the movie. The screenplay was terrible, the dialogue awkward and stilted. In a novel, characters can fall in love after an exchange totalling 2 words. (Don’t trust the editing in the trailer. The delivery is much worse than it seems.) Goldsman transforms the source material into a contrived love story apparently written by a pretentious 11 year old. In books, characters can fall in love after small exchanges because readers get perspective and insight. In the film, you get unnatural silences and stereotyped characters with little depth. Beverly was reduced to the sick-girl-who-is-wise-beyond-her-years-but-has-never-experienced-life-and-of-course-dies-after-she-loses-her-virginity (“What a complete life,” say feminists worldwide!)and Peter was just…I don’t know, I suppose lost is the appropriate word. For a supposed “passion project”, Goldsman (as director, producer and writer) injects little warmth into the characters. He turned a book into a completely conventional failed-Hollywood-blockbuster.
Winter’s Tale had the makings of a great production. Popular source material, Caleb Deschanel as the cinematographer, Hans Zimmer contributing to the soundtrack, Tim Squyres involved in the editing process and a strong cast. What led it down was lack of direction and a bad screenplay, plain and simple. Goldsman’s direction made the body language seem stiff and uncomfortable. For instance, when Peter takes Beverly on a horse ride across a frozen lake, they have a brief exchange which could not come across as more uncomfortable. Try flirting on a galloping horse whilst escaping from demons. Another scene that was hard to watch was Peter’s meeting with Isaac Penn (William Hurt), Beverly’s father. The shot was framed as a TV interview. It was like watching 60 minutes. If this was an attempt at humour it was stylistically out of place and one of many of Goldsman’s failures in incorporating witty banter into the film. (I won’t even start on Willa delivering the ancient romantic-comedy proverb that every younger sibling has the duty to deliver: “Do you love Beverly?” Cue blushing of the cheeks and enigmatic looks between Beverly and Peter which seem to say “Oh love is such a profound thing that you’d never understand…we’d know, we’ve been in each other’s presence for 10 minutes.”) Furthermore, so many of the scenes looked as though they were unfinished and should have been left in the editing room. I cannot imagine production seriously taking place in order to film the lines “Oh Horse, what have you gotten me into?” having felt “true love” for the first time.
Pity, is a good word to describe my feelings towards the actors. Because of the aforementioned issues, such as a terrible screenplay and bad direction, the actors were largely left stranded in this muddled story. Jessica Brown-Findlay breathed as much life into her character as possible, but was victim to lack of plot and contextualisation. Colin Farrell tried. That’s all I have to say. Personally, I didn’t feel their chemistry. I found the sex scene to be very awkward and its length contributed little to the film as a whole. (Within the first five minutes I had made a bet with my friend that there would be an awkwardly unnecessary sex scene so that the film could be “taken seriously”.) In addition to this, I felt that Farrell was a little too old to play Peter. Fair enough, Peter is in his 30s whilst Beverly is 18. I guess the whole (slightly) older man/younger woman vibe just didn’t sit right with me. Russell Crowe attempted to bring intensity to his role as the villain Pearly, but again, his attempt fell flat. The way his face contorted was not particularly menacing, although I do appreciate the sentiment. And, the piece de resistance – Will Smith’s cameo. Why, oh why did the producers/Goldsman/casting directors/anyone involved in this project think this would be a good idea? From my perspective, his current reputation isn’t high enough to pull this off. Smith hasn’t done a decent movie for a good few years, so it’s not like his presence in the movie is a marketing point. The point is, it wasn’t good. I know that people in my cinema laughed. I have read online that we were not the only ones. I guess Will Smith’s part as Satan is truly representative of Goldsman’s misjudged directorial choices, smattered throughout the whole film. And, finally, my last qualm with Winter’s Tale. A lot of Pearly’s henchmen were played by distractingly bad actors. I don’t know much about acting, but minor characters shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. All in all, I felt that the actors were dancing around butchered dialogue, trying to deliver sub-par lines effectively.
In conclusion, if you’re a fan of cheesy romantic dramas, I’d recommend Winter’s Tale. That is, if you like cheesy romantic movies to a fault. This movie reeked of unfulfilled potential. What could have been an exciting drama, about the fight between good and evil, with an interesting love story thrown in, was reduced to a movie stereotypical of the terrible romantic-comedies that studios try to pump out in time for Valentines Day. If you would like to indulge in a guilty pleasure, head over and see it. The studios will need some help in the box-office department for this one. Although I think we’ll all be happy to see the tail-end of Winter’s Tale.
Winter’s Tale (2014): 2/10