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.