Winter's Tale More Mystifying Than Magical
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- Updated Jun 20, 2014
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: February 14, 2014
Rating: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Run Time: 118 min.
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Will Smith, Eva Marie Saint
A 30-year-old fantasy novel has found its way to the silver screen, with contributions from cinematic storytellers who have sparkled in the past: Winter’s Tale is a beloved book by author Mark Helprin, while sceenwriter Akiva Goldsman won an Oscar for his adaptation of A Beautiful Mind. With those credentials, Goldsman seemed like he might be the ideal candidate to bring Helprin's jewel of a story to the big screen.
But not everything Goldsman has touched has turned to gold. Remember Practical Magic (1998) or Batman and Robin (1997), the film George Clooney recently said had a bad screenplay? Both were based on Goldsman scripts. For Winter’s Tale, Goldsman also donned the director’s hat—never mind that his previous directing experience is limited to a few episodes of TV. Could he pull together all the threads of Helprin’s book in his screenplay and keep control of the project while behind the camera?
Alas, Winter's Tale is no gem. What seemed like it might be a fantastic, magical story feels instead awkwardly stitched together, even laughable when not outright confusing. Despite some nice work from cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ), Winter’s Tale is a soggy, sometimes ugly story that can’t decide what kind of tale it wants to tell.
The story, which hops from 1895 to 2014, begins in New York, with voiceover narration that explains, for the first of many times, that "we are all connected"—shades of Cloud Atlas, although Winter's Tale doesn't have the same scope or emphases as Atlas. Tale is more interested in setting up a spiritual battle in which Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, Broken City) chases Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks) in an effort to prevent Lake from fulfilling his destiny. That destiny has something to do with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a beautiful but doomed woman afflicted with consumption, whom Lake, a thief, meets while in the midst of robbing her home.
Once the beautiful Penn declares she's "never been kissed on the mouth" and has a year-and-a-half left to live, it's not hard to predict that Lake will take that more as a challenge than a warning. A deadly, contagious disease is no match for two attractive, love-struck leads.
The more immediate threat is Soames, who intends great harm for his former protégé Lake—if only Lake didn't keep escaping Soames' grasp. A winged white horse helps Lake stay a step ahead of Soames and his henchmen, although the fantastical creature fails to register much more than a shrug from Soames' jaded crew. Maybe it’s all par for the course, considering Soames is not exactly of this earth: he's a demon doing the bidding of his boss (an unexpected Will Smith), although the flying horse repeatedly bedevils him.
Winter's Tale tries to balance its disparate plot threads, but never strikes the right tone to put its narrative across. Soames’ violent outbursts sit uneasily among the story’s more whimsical elements, and the story quickly grows confusing, even laughable in its attempts to make viewers accept its more magical elements. Soon, Winter’s Tale jumps ahead to contemporary New York, where Lake, still looking the same as he did decades earlier, continues to pine for Penn. He gets Virginia (Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind) and a newspaper editor (Eva Marie Saint, Because of Winn-Dixie) to help him figure out and fulfill his life’s purpose. But by that point, you’ll be long past caring.
There’s potential for a great movie in Winter’s Tale, which lays out some important themes: Each of us has a unique life purpose (Rom. 8:28), and there are forces at work that can fight against that purpose (Eph. 6:12). But Winter’s Tale doesn’t gel, undermining the very themes that would have had a greater impact had the storytelling been more effective.
Winter’s Tale opens as a major snowstorm blankets the East Coast of the United States, but it’s an unsatisfying wintry mix. The movie doesn’t justify digging out the driveway and making a trip to the theater. Better to stay inside, have a warm beverage, and experience Helprin’s beloved tale on the page.
- Language/Profanity: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph"; "da-n"; "son of a b-tch"
- Drinking/Smoking: A character is asked if they take wine with their dinner
- Sex/Nudity: A woman is shown disrobing and bathing, but no nudity is seen; kissing; two people have sex, shown under sheets; a man covered by a towel; a woman seen in silhouette as she undresses
- Violence/Crime: Punching and fighting; we see a throat slit from behind; Peter is a thief; Pearly kills a man and uses his blood to create an image; a point-blank shooting; sword fighting; head butts; a beating; a character is tossed off a bridge; a neck is cut
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: People are said to be all connected, part of a great plan; each person is said to have a unique purpose; magic is said to be all around us, and that as we seek out the light, darkness gathers; belief that after we die, we become stars; a woman says the universe sends us spirit guides; a verbal reference to God creating the world in six days; a demon talks with Satan; God is accused of being “as bloodthirsty as the rest of us”; a comment about killing the wrong person; a child asks where we go when we die; belief that we can be someone’s “miracle” and that we can “save” them; a belief that we are nothing more than machines who need help from the universe to run
Publication date: February 14, 2014