I am not a cold-hearted man. I like love stories as much as anyone and, as a fan of Say Anything, almost well up whenever I hear Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” but the sledgehammer romance of “Winter’s Tale” left me feeling bruised rather than buoyed. What is meant to be an uplifting experience about the power of love and the triumph of good over evil felt more like being strapped to a chair and force-fed all nine seasons of “Touched by an Angel.”
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Mark Helprin and brought to the screen by Oscar winning writer-turned-director Akiva Goldsman the story begins when Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a turn-of-the-last century burglar, comes across the love of his life while robbing a mansion he thought was empty.
Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) the beautiful-but-doomed daughter of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, is a precocious and philosophical young woman with just months to live. He wants to save her, but first he must save himself from demonic crime lord Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a brutal man who wants Lake dead. Then, in a twist suggested by the Brothers Grimm, he finds himself thrust one hundred years into the future with only the faded memory of Beverly and a white guardian angel horse as company.
The opening narration let’s us know that “magic is everywhere around us.” I just wish that some of that magic had spilled into the screenplay. The movie’s mix of metaphysical romance, magic realism and demonic revenge is a strange stew that worked well in the novel but seems to have lost something in the translation to the screen. In other words, perhaps the sight of Colin Farrell flying above New York on a winged Pegasus is best left in the mind’s eye.
As silly as the movie is, and make no mistake, this is what I like to call an S.D.M.—Silly Damn Movie—Farrell and Findlay manage to bring the romantic side of the tale alive. Their first meeting, over a cup of tea, is simple, effective and bristles with sexual tension. The love story, although a bit starry-eyed, works until the magic realism takes over and the story becomes loopier and loopier. By the time the words, “Is it possible to love someone so much they can’t die?” spill from Farrell’s lips all is lost, and that’s not even an hour into the story.
Putting aside the enchanted horses and dime store spirituality for a moment, the story often requires leaps of faith that would have even terrified Evel Knievel. This is the kind of movie where mothers willingly hand over their sick children to scruffy looking strangers on the promise of a miracle. It’s the kind of movie where people accept outlandish events with a tossed off phrase like, “How’s that even possible?” It’s the kind of sloppily plotted movie that involves a level of suspension of disbelieve so off-the-charts it’s almost in outer space.
“Winter’s Tale” is a frustrating movie. It overly complicates a boy-from-the-wrong- side-of-the-tracks-meets-rich-girl story with a bunch of hocus pocus that wastes some good work from Farrell, Findlay and Russell Crowe.
The DaVinci Code is finally in the theatres after months of anticipation and hype. No movie in recent memory has generated the kind of controversy and column inches as this one has, but like Public Enemy used to say, “Don’t believe the hype.” The Ron Howard adaptation doesn’t live up to expectations. Howard has crafted a handsome 2 ½ hour movie that is faithful to the book—for better or worse.
The coded symbols and secret messages are here, all of which are crucial to the understanding of the convoluted story, but unfortunately the slavish adherence to those story conventions slows the whole thing down to a crawl, draining most of the excitement out of this provocative material.
Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman edit the story, removing some of author Dan Brown’s superfluous story tentacles, but still get bogged down.
For what is essentially a chase movie it is awfully talky. The story is a multi-faceted juggernaut with Howard balancing a police procedural with a scavenger-hunt and religious intrigue. Add in a few mad monks, an eccentric English Lord and a deadly butler and you should have the basis for a ripping good tale, the 45 million or so readers of the book thought so, but the filmmakers are more interested in getting from one place to another in the story to worry too much about the characters. The actors appear to be there to support the story instead of being an organic part of the story. They all have heaps of dialogue but little in the way of actual characters. The result is a clumsy screenplay that doesn’t move along as quickly as the book.
Of the international cast, featuring French superstars Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou and Brits Paul Bettany and Ian McKellen only the latter seems to be enjoying himself. As the crusty Leigh Teabing, a Holy Grail obsessive, McKellen seems to have grasped the pulp fiction roots of this piece and actually calibrates his performance away from the terribly serious tone of the rest of the film.
Anchoring the cast is a morose Tom Hanks as Harvard Professor of Religious Symbiology turned murder suspect Robert Langdon. Hanks doesn’t do much with the character other than act as Mr. Exposition. He is the guide to the mystery of the DaVinci Code and as such has to deliver a great deal of information about symbols and the movie’s revisionist view of the life of Jesus Christ. These long speeches aren’t particularly cinematic and Hanks’ flat delivery of the material makes them even less so. Even when the pace of the film is more upbeat, the script lets him down. In a rare moment of passion he must deliver one of the least thrilling lines in the history of thrillers. “I have to get to a library—fast!” Hitchcock or any other good thriller director would have ditched that line at the first read through.
The movie does soft peddle some of the book’s more controversial claims. “We’ve been dragged into a world of people who think this stuff is real,” says the cinematic Langdon who is more of a Doubting Thomas than his literary counterpart. The filmmakers have added a sequence that stresses the influence of Jesus Christ in the modern world but these concessions to political correctness actually undermine the story, stripping it of some of its drama. Whether the history presented in the book and film is hokum or not, we need the characters to believe in it to make their search compelling. If they don’t believe, then why should the viewer care?
The DaVinci Code is a drama without much drama, a thriller with few thrills whose biggest sin is a failure to entertain.