I wasn’t planning on reviewing this film, but I felt it my civic duty to warn you about this toxic waste of time.
Many will recognize first time director Akiva Goldsman for his Oscar-winning screenplay for “A Beautiful Mind” a dozen years ago. Some of us may remember him for his dual Razzie nominations (1997’s “A Time to Kill” and 1998’s “Batman & Robin“). This may be the year he wins.
The writing and continuity problems with “Winter’s Tale” gush forth straight out of the starting gate and really never stop during the film’s entire 2-hour trot. The film’s attractive trailer outlined a time-traveling storyline, one of those eternal love story themes, and grand performances from the likes of a rapscallion played by Colin Farrell, a beautiful free spirited red-haired publisher’s daughter (“Downton Abbey”‘s Jessica Brown Findlay), and a snarling, menacing presence by heavyweight Russell Crowe. I half-joked as I arrived at the local preview that perhaps I could travel back in time in case the film sucked air from the room. As the end credits heralded a long overdue exit from the auditorium, I realized—in my breathless state—that the film was an exercise in forward time travel. Alas, that’s a one-way disadvantage I couldn’t utilize.
With its heaping pile of Christian spirituality courtesy of Mark Helprin’s well-received 1983 novel, somewhere between the printed page and Goldsman’s directorial debut things got strange and unbelievable. You do remember what the movies are supposed to do? Make the unbelievable believable. In the film the story comes on too strong too quickly and that illusion causes nothing but consternation and ridicule. Maybe fans of the book will find something to admire here, but the audience’s initial giggles start early, when the film’s time is set in 1914. A white horse named Athansor appears from out of nowhere to rescue Peter Lake (Farrell) from gangster Pearly Soames (Crowe) and his thugs. Peter, who arrived in New York in 1895 as an infant with his parents, was cast adrift in a miniature model ship by mom and dad (forced to return to the Old Country).
So here’s where the math starts to get weird. You have the 37-year-old Farrell playing a 20-year-old thief on the run from his former thug of a boss, a truly devilish character (just wait till you start to laugh when you see his angry face). There’s an even worse age discrepancy I’ll point out in a moment, but I wanted to digress on how distracting Farrell’s hairdo is. Close-cropped on the side, I kept looking for specks of grey to better support how unbelievable my impression of him as a young 20-something was.
Ah, that horse. Did I tell you it can fly? Well, if you’re willing to laugh at all the inappropriate times, watching this beastly guardian angel guide the obedient Peter to a date with his true love’s destiny, well, it’s just plain corny. Smitten at first sight with the dying (from consumption) Beverly Penn, Peter endears himself to her dad (William Hurt), editor of the New York Sun, when he saves their palatial upstate New York mansion from destruction via a clogged heating pipe. There’s also a warm connection between Peter and Beverly’s younger sister Willa.
Ah, Willa. Second math error. She’s maybe 10 in 1914, but when she appears 100 YEARS LATER in the modern sequence (guess I’ll tell you about that in the next paragraph) as the current editor of the newspaper, she’s a remarkably agile woman played by the remarkably gifted (and 89-year-old) actress Eva Marie Saint. But 89? 110. Most people are dead at age.
So, how did the film skip 100 years? Pearly tosses Peter off the Brooklyn Bridge and presumes the lad dead. Well, it just turns out he drifts ashore in present-day Manhattan with a total loss of memory (another chapter in the story’s ludicrous “as-it-is-foretold” mythical guidelines), wherein there’s a stars-are-aligned Central Park meeting with Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly), a food reporter on The Sun, and her dying daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo). By now the notorious Pearly, still part of the underworld crime racket, gets pissed for his monumental misjudgment in dealing Peter his deathly due a century earlier.
There’s the expected fight to the finish and some more sugar and dreck tossed about.
The film is too young to have any of the innumerable goofs pointed out on the Internet Movie Database, but here’s one they’ll eventually pick up. When Peter is trying to reclaim his memory, he and Virginia ask a librarian for a microfiche (a flat piece of film containing microphotographs of the pages of a newspaper) to learn about the Penn family history. In moments they are handling a microfilm (same idea, but it’s a ROLL of film on a reel), yet they are still calling it microfiche.
Along its ridiculous arc, there’s one final saving-the-worst-for-last moment surrounding the surprise cameo appearance (twice) of Will Smith as Judge a.k.a. Lucifer. It is so unnervingly out of place that the laughter is audible. My hearing, being a little more selective, could hear the eyes rolling through most of the audience.