Miracles, destinies, reincarnation, demons, Lucifer, angels, Irish gangs, tuberculosis, flying horses and New York City – these are just a handful of the bizarre juxtaposing story ideas the film Winter’s Tale covers. Adapted from Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel by the same title, Winter’s Tale locates itself in New York City in the years 1895, 1916 and 2014. It follows protagonist Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who chooses romance over a life of theft when he falls in love with beautiful heiress Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). Their love is ended when demon Pearly Soames arranges for Beverly to be murdered as he fears that Peter and Beverly’s love for one another will be the force to overthrow evil and allow only good to exist in the world. Following Beverly’s death, Peter roams New York City for a century and forgets everything about his past. That is until one day in 2014 when he meets a little girl dying of cancer who needs a miracle that only Peter can provide.
The story begins with Peter’s Oliver-esuqe orphanhood in which he works as a pickpocket for a demon disguised as an Irish gangster named Pearly Soames. This ridiculous part is played by Russell Crowe, who actually does an impressive job of making the character somewhat bearable. His Irish accent is harsh, he barks out orders and his menacing stare is frightful. He even has a little twitch in the face that shows how hard he’s working to keep the demon within him at bay, that is until one humorous moment when he loses his temper and sends the skin on his face cracking and bleeding in five different directions. Why a demon disguised as an Irish gangster in a fantastical love story? Who knows, but after seeing Russell Crowe in this film I’m convinced he could play a puddle of water and still be captivating.
The same can’t be said for Colin Farrell who obviously struggled with the weak story and cheesy, lovesick part he was cast in, but who can blame him? He spends the majority of the film wandering around New York with a magical white horse that can fly, and if you didn’t think that was airy fairy enough, the horse is actually Peter Lake’s guardian angel and can also transform into a dog, but we never see that happen. The film ends with Peter galloping through a cemetery on the back of his horse, it leaps into the sky, turns into a twinkling star and a voice over tells us that after we die “we all become stars” – so deep.
Throughout the film you can’t help but wonder what director Akiva Goldsman’s target audience is. Winter’s Tale is like a fairytale for adults except it’s so over the top and corny no adult in their right mind would love it. Perhaps teenage girls would enjoy the twinkling stars, the rugged Irishman, the reflections on life and death and the sappy love story, but I have my doubts. Despite it’s all star cast, including Jennifer Connelly and Will Smith as Lucifer (funny for all the wrong reasons), the film lacks substance, the plot line is confusing and it fails to grab your attention and keep you interested.
Some books make excellent screen adaptations but the same cannot be said for Winter’s Tale. Let’s hope the story was better on page than it is on screen.
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