‘Winter’s Tale’ turns magical realism into ‘meh’ 

click to enlarge Winter’s Tale
  • Courtesy photo
  • “Winter’s Tale,” starring Colin Farrell, left, and Jessica Brown Findlay, may leave lovers lukewarm on Valentine’s Day.

The wildly successful, Oscar-winning screenwriter-turned-producer Akiva Goldsman has made a career out of overexplained, half-witted movies ranging from “Batman & Robin” to “Angels & Demons.”

So his turn as a director, and taking Mark Helprin’s beloved 1983 novel “Winter’s Tale” with him, was not exactly promising.

The result is more just OK than it is howlingly terrible. It’s as if Goldsman learned everything about directing from Ron Howard, whom he has worked with four times.

“Winter’s Tale” chugs along, without ever being extraordinary or exhibiting much personality or artistry. It also can’t find any cohesion or center.

Despite a distracting, floppy hairstyle, Colin Farrell’s presence at least adds some meat to the movie. He plays Peter Lake, an orphaned thief in 1916 New York who falls in love with the consumptive Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).

According to the voice-over narration and other explanatory dialogue, everything and everyone is connected by light. The movie uses some lovely visual effects to illustrate this, which is good because the actors fail to do the same.

Also, everyone is born with a miracle inside them that’s meant for one person. Peter believes it’s his destiny to save Beverly — with the help of a white, flying horse.

One hundred years later, Peter is somehow still alive and finds that he has a different destiny when he meets newspaper food columnist Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly).

Her editor-in-chief, a face from Peter’s past played as an old woman by Eva Marie Saint (“On the Waterfront” and “North by Northwest”), also provides some information, although, it’s difficult to imagine a newspaper editor being 104 years old.

All the while, a daemon in human form, Pearly Soames (a vicious, nasty Russell Crowe), spends every waking moment trying to stop Peter, dispatching interchangeable minions to do his cruel bidding.

Dialogue that may have sounded poetic on the printed page sounds awkward spoken aloud, and it’s doubtful that lines like “s--- happens” actually came from the novel. (Despite the title, we’re not talking Shakespeare here.)

Given the novel’s nearly 700 pages, some cuts were likely made that undoubtedly compromised the original concept.

Though “Winter’s Tale” is supposed to employ magical realism, it flips indecisively between magic and realism, without ever finding a tone for both.

Nevertheless, Goldsman’s overall approach allows the movie to get away with some ridiculously goopy moments, though many other moments are simply ridiculous.


Winter’s Tale

Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly

Written by Akiva Goldsman, based on a novel by Mark Helprin

Directed by Akiva Goldsman

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 58 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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