"Winter's Tale" Review: Craig's First Take

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Akiva Goldsman makes his directorial debut with this fantasy film that's based around a thief, a dying girl and a flying white horse in 19th Century and modern-day Manhattan. Adapted from Mark Helprin's 1983 novel, the cast features Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly, Matt Bomer & Jessica Brown Findlay.
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You meet a girl at a bar, you get to talking and laughing and everything seems to be going well. You even get her number and leave for the night feeling on top of the world. Then you text her, 6 or 7 days go by and soon you realize you’re just not going to get a message back. Here’s an example of how complicated romance is already. But noooo, apparently this was too simple for Hollywood’s Valentine’s Day film this year. They had to go with something like “Winters Tale”, which feels both like heroin for those who love the most sentimental and sugary of romantic treats and like the person who wrote it was also on heroin during its conception.

His first stab in the direct[CY1] or’s chair, Akiva Goldsman adapts a novel by Mark Helprin by first giving us voiceover narration that everything is connected; we’re connected by magic, we’re connected by light, there’s a world underneath our world of hidden connections. Oy vey, it just all sounded like drivel to me and I couldn’t help but feel completely disconnected.

This happens before the meat of the thing really starts. Colin Farrell is a human thief in 1916 (his parents dumped him in a little boat in the harbor when he was a boy so he could have a life in America) named Peter whose part of a band of Irish thieves in New York commanded by Pearly (Russell Crowe). Pearly is also a minion of Satan. When Peter decides he wants to steal by less destructive means (i.e not break fingers or kill people), Pearly takes great offense.

Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) is dying of fever and apparently the only way to cool her down is to have her sleep or walk barefoot around ice and snow. She seems to suffer from the same disease Mr. Freeze does. Anyway, Peter is about to skip town with his new white horse that can fly (when Pearly realizes Peter has the horse, he angrily says “He’s got the goddamn horse.”) when the horse decides to play matchmaker instead by leading him directly to her door. He mistakenly thinks he’s there to rob her but after two minutes of talking with her, he begins to realize that the best thing he’s ever stolen has probably not been stolen yet, I.e- her heart.

Still with me? Well try this on. Pearly doesn’t like this one bit. He knows he has to stop this coupling before Peter can perform a miracle on her (which I think is stealing her life back, not sure) which somehow, someway will lead to another star in the sky, I think, which is bad, I think.

The movie works best when you don’t have to think about it. There’s a picturesque snowy winter lodge in this film that even with the East Coast’s growing hatred of the stuff I have to admit looks damn good and there are choreographed ballroom dances to boot. I’d even take the love conquering evil part of the story if Goldsman had made any effort at all to make anything happening in this movie (which is also about destiny and has some very senseless rules about what characters can and can’t do) the least bit coherent.

Worst of all is the romance between Farrell and Findlay, where they are either staring intently at each other or trying so hard to be wondrous and whimsical that any actual romance is kept both bland and stunningly shallow.

The last act of the film takes place in 2014, where Peter still lives but has lost much of his memories. It falls to a Food critic at the New York Times named Virginia (Jennifer Connelly, for some reason picking this as her first movie back to acting) to help him remember. This leads to finding a person from Peter’s past that by this point should be 100 years old and not the editor of the New York Times, and a child diagnosed with cancer that nonetheless produces the film’s funniest line (“I’m just a mechanic, but what are we if not machines.”)

“Winter’s Tale” is baffling, it’s incoherent, it’s laughable, and it makes two hours feel like a slow descent into madness.