Head-Scratching Winter’s Tale an Unforgivable Disaster
Wow. Double-wow. Wow with cream and sugar and as many other syrupy, saccharine and calorie-filled toppings that I can think of slathered shamelessly on top. Honestly? I don’t know what to say. Winter’s Tale, as handsomely mounted as it is, as wonderfully acted as it might be (save an exception here or there), as beautifully shot by the legendary Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion, Fly Away Home) as it might be, is flabbergasting in just how awful it proves to, the movie a mess of fantasy, romance, whimsy and magic the less said about the better.
Based on the best-selling novel by Mark Helprin, veteran screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, Batman Forever), making his directorial debut, has crafted a ham-fisted narrative spanning over a century that manages to waste an intriguing premise drowning it in schmaltz and treacle at every turn. It plays up every emotional transformation and turn to the nth degree, beating the viewer over the head right from the jump never allowing its more intriguing nuances to organically take shape or fly in ways that doesn’t feel calculated or false.
To his credit, Goldsman does not hide the film’s mystical leanings, the filmmaker allowing his picture to wear its heart on its sleeve immediately showing a snow white horse seemingly take flight in order for hero Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) to escape a throng of evildoers led by the demonic Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) set to do him harm. He lets the viewer in on the fact we’re about to enter a fantastical realm of angels and demons warring over human souls immediately, hoping that by doing so subsequent twists and turns won’t come across as forced or flat.
Doesn’t work. Emotions are so amplified, everything is so in-you-face and matter-of-fact, the love story at the core is never given the opportunity to take hold and stir connective emotional responses from the viewer. The didactic pomposity is off-putting and moronic, every beat and every note so laden with sentimental hogwash it all becomes frustratingly tiresome pretty much right away.
And yet, I can imagine a scenario in which this movie doesn’t annoy, doesn’t disappoint. Farrell is excellent as the romantic hero, a thief and all-around cad who finds himself falling instantly and madly in love with beautiful consumption sufferer Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) after breaking into her house intent on larceny. The pair have exquisite chemistry, the heat generating between the pair of them instantly palpable. One honestly does want to see them together, hoping against hope they’ll find a way to put differences aside and overcome gigantic obstacles in order to achieve life-long happiness.
As for Crowe, he’s a hoot as the subhuman villain, chewing on the scenery with a gleefully malevolent relish befitting his demonic chaos-yearning hellion. There’s not a lot in the way of shading or gradation to his portrayal but, quite honestly, there doesn’t need to be, Pearly Soames all about the mayhem canceling out love and destroying aspirational dreams all in a day’s work for he and his loathsome crew.
Pity those three find themselves stuck in this, because for all their hard work, for as much of themselves as they give, Winter’s Tale is a lost cause building do a conclusion so horribly wrong-headed it’s hard to envision a context or a scenario where it could have been anything but. As relatively annoying and mawkish as the first half is, it is when the movie jumps a hundred years into the here and now where things truly fall apart. Jennifer Connelly is stranded in a thankless role well beneath her talents, while cinematic legend Eva Marie Saint joins the proceedings portraying a character who by all accounts shouldn’t still exist let alone be playing such a vital part in the drama.
But it is in the presentation of the story itself where Goldsman’s epic drama goes spectacularly wrong. He plays things up to such a fevered-pitch, the movie itself so on the nose, relating to any single moment of Lake’s story is practically impossible. As for the conclusion, a silly and absurd cameo from a certain MIB agent aside, it’s so ineptly envisioned I almost don’t know where to begin, this saga of life, death, rebirth, reunion and sacrifice all boiling down to a pair of imbeciles playing Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the middle of a frozen nowhere.
Winter’s Tale, for all its technical proficiency, as hard as the actors themselves might try, is a bad movie, and I have a hard time believing I’ll be able to make it through the remainder of 2014 without thinking on it as anything other than a head-scratching disaster. Unforgivable. Simply unforgivable.
Film Rating: 1 out of 4
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle