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Winter's Tale
(L-r) COLIN FARRELL as Peter Lake and JENNIFER CONNELLY as Virginia Gamely in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' romantic fantasy adventure "WINTER'S TALE," distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures. Photo Credit: David C. Lee.

Movie Review: Winter’s Tale

Colin Farrell, Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, and Russell Crowe head the cast of “Winter’s Tale.” Jeanne has her take.

Warner Bros. Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for “violence and some sensuality”
Run Time: 118 minutes

Studio Synopsis:
This is not a true story, it’s a love story.

Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, “Winter’s Tale” is about miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil. The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), and stars Colin Farrell (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Jessica Brown Findlay (TV’s “Downton Abbey”), and Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”).

Peter Lake (Farrell) is a master thief, who never expected to have his own heart stolen by the beautiful Beverly Penn (Brown Findlay). But their love is star-crossed: she burns with a deadly form of consumption, and Peter has been marked for a much more violent death by his one-time mentor, the demonic Pearly Soames (Crowe). Peter desperately tries to save his one true love, across time, against the forces of darkness, even as Pearly does everything in his power to take him down—winner take all and loser be damned. What Peter needs is a miracle, but only time will tell if he can find one.

The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), who also wrote the screenplay, based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Helprin. Goldsman is also producing the film with Marc Platt (“Drive”), Michael Tadross (“Sherlock Holmes”) and Tony Allard (Showtime’s “The Baby Dance”). The executive producers are Kerry Foster and Bruce Berman.

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes five-time Oscar®-nominated director of photography Caleb Deschanel (“The Passion of the Christ,” “The Patriot”), production designer Naomi Shohan (“Constantine,” “I Am Legend”), costume designer Michael Kaplan (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “Star Trek”) and editors Wayne Wahrman (“I Am Legend”) and Oscar® nominee Tim Squyres (“Life of Pi,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). The music is composed by Oscar® winner Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King,” “Inception,” “Man of Steel”) and Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Grown Ups 2”).

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, a Weed Road/Marc Platt Production, “Winter’s Tale.”

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBSj1MKwx6A’]
Winter's Tale

(L-r) COLIN FARRELL as Peter Lake and JESSICA BROWN FINDLAY as Beverly Penn. Photo Credit: David C. Lee. © 2014 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Jeanne’s Take:
Mark Helprin’s magical-realist novel, about a love so deep that it exists outside of time, received ecstatic reviews upon publication in 1983 and went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

Popular Hollywood screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is directing his first film here, and has some difficulty getting a handle on an 800 page novel filled with subplots, subsidiary characters, and novelist Helprin’s  love of language. Apparently Goldsman decided that less is more, and so stripped much of the complexity from “Winter’s Tale,” substituting coincidence and simplicity.

This bittersweet romance is set during the Gilded Age, America’s version of the Belle Epoque, or “beautiful era.”  Contrasts were everywhere in the late 19th century: impoverished European immigrants poured into the United States, where wealthy industrialists and robber barons lived lavishly and controlled much of the economy. During the legendary blizzards of the late 1800s, New York was among the cities shrouded in darkness because electricity failed during snowfalls of 20-60 inches with sustained winds causing major snowdrifts. Gaslight and candle light were the only illumination for days. Living through it must have been horrific, but onscreen, the snowcovered settings are lovely and otherworldly.  The settings hold up well.

We meet Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) as an infant carried in the arms of his immigrant parents at Ellis Island. Unable to gain access to America, the desperate young parents put little Peter in a tiny boat and he drifts ashore in 1895.  We see him next in 1916, an orphan grown into an expert mechanic and burglar, a rising star in the coterie of thugs being trained by gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).

By some miracle or two, Lake meets beautiful Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), as he is preparing to rob her father’s mansion. She is dying of “consumption,” suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs. Despite all obstacles, they talk and connect and he thinks only of how he can help her in the time she has left. Magic and guardian angels and psychic knowing are assumed during this fantasy winter in the heart of Manhattan, where the gangster Pearly has the power of a demon – indeed is a demon. His obsession with tracking down Peter Lake and making an example of him through any and all means brings him in conflict with the Rules. And there are Rules as to how a demon can behave when he is in conflict with a human traveling in the Light, as we all know from “Xena Warrior Princess” on free television, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novels, not to mention the “Cloud Atlas” film with Halle Berry and Tom Hanks.  When Pearly schedules an appointment with the ultimate demon in order to get permission to violate the Rules, we are startled to see Lucifer, but the surprise casting really does work. Really.

Winter's Tale

MCKAYLA TWIGGS as Young Willa . Photo Credit: David C. Lee. © 2014 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

I wish I could say that the film works on its own, but the second half (the part set in 2014) really does not seem to be connected to the first half of the film.  There are moments of poignancy as Lake struggles to exist with no memory as to how he got from 1916 to 2014, and finds himself drawing portraits in the street of a girl with long red hair, looking up at the stars.

A love affair with New York City in winter is central to “Winter’s Tale.” Striking scenes were filmed in Grand Central Station, the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan and in the East Village. The haunting cinematography was done by Caleb Deschanel, whose credits include “A Woman Under the Influence” (John Cassavetes directing), “The Natural” (Barry Levinson directing), and “The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson directing).

If you have read the novel, this film will not work for you.  If you are looking at the movie without knowledge of the novel, you still may have trouble with too much convenient happenstance, and a lack of character development. The flip of a coin, a white horse with wings, an heiress at home without servants, Pearly’s motivation for striking a dangerous bargain, that saccharine narration throughout the movie. And there is the almost criminal misuse of actress Eva Marie Saint in a part crucial to the resolution of the film.

Solution: treat “Winter’s Tale” as a first date movie or a Valentine’s Day movie, as long as you have not read the book.  Goldsman could have given us more.

About Jeanne Powell

Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.