Most people became aware of Winter’s Tale by the strangely captivating trailer released late last year. It took a couple of viewings just to figure out what exactly was going on and what type of film this might be. The curiosity brought me to buy the book and find out a little bit more about what exactly this story is all about.
Winter’s Tale is based on the novel by Mark Helprin first published in 1983. I have heard in passing many times since the trailer debuted that it is a great novel. It is also a fairly long novel at 671 pages and why I came nowhere near finishing it. Akiva Goldsman, who won an Academy Award for the script of A Beautiful Mind, wrote this script, produced and directed the film. I am going to go out on a limb and say that he probably loved the book and maybe this was a passion project for him.
The film follows Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), an orphan and a thief, who happens upon Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) while burgling a home that Peter thought was empty. A love story begins but is complicated by a couple of things. Beverly is deathly ill with consumption, forcing her to stay in cold environments, like sleeping in tents outside in winter. Peter is also on the run from a former boss and mentor, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who is more than meets the eye. He has an evil streak and has special powers. We come to find out that he is a demon, a minion of Lucifer. After Peter falls in love with Beverly and she meets her inevitable demise, Peter stays alive, untouched by time for one hundred years. The reason is the real question mark of the film.
Winter’s Tale has a lot going for it. The whole early 1900s period of the film is well done. It establishes all of the characters and their back stories well enough that there really is not any questioning about why this or that is happening. Winter’s Tale has the makings of new fairy tale with magic, myths, angels, demons, evil, good, love, loss, and flying horses. Unfortunately, it all falls apart once we jump to 2014 in the story. It is rushed and the elements are not fully explained. The big reveal is not gratifying as it is just there and really has no emotion connected to it for the audience. Had Goldsman spent more time on the latter half of the film, it may have turned out to be a fantastic film. But I have a feeling that given the length of the book and a runtime of 118 minutes, not everything is there. Goldsman obviously gave his all for the early 1900s portion, which is beautifully done, and ran out of steam for 2014.
Jessica Brown Findlay is clearly the star of this film. She is beautiful, radiant, and compelling as Beverly. Those who have never seen Downton Abbey are in for a treat as she steals just about every scene she is in. Colin Farrell also does a good job with what he is given. His Peter Lake is how I imagined it as I read the book, and I do not fault him for the way the second half of the film turned out. Russell Crowe continues to venture out of his typical roles. He does play a good demon with a good Irish accent to boot. (Maybe it is Scottish?)
Akiva Goldsman also apparently has the enough standing in Hollywood to bring a myriad of actors into his film, even only for small parts. Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt have large parts, but others like Matt Bomer, Graham Greene, and Scott Grimes play such small parts. I will not mention all the actors as they are not shown in the trailer or any of the promotional material for the film. It is these other actors that make up the pleasant surprises in the film.
I really wanted to love Winter’s Tale and it had all the elements to become a strange new fairy tale. However, the ending and the surprise that everything in the film led up to is not done with the same care or detail that the rest of the film is given. It may have needed another half an hour to fully invest in the 2014 portion. It is a shame because I am sure it did not do the novel justice and the film could have been an interesting escape from the romance films we usually see in February.
I give Winter’s Tale 2 out of 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek