As long as there are movie trailers, there will always be some movies that are advertised one way but turn out to be something far different. Whether it be in tone, plot or character, the studio’s marketing department chooses to tease the audience into thinking one thing only to throw you a curveball that spins your head a little in confusion. And though the marketing behind Akiva Goldsman’s new film, Winter’s Tale, wasn’t completely unrelated to the actual events of the film, it still left me a little off-center at how they chose to deal with the magic and the miracles of human interaction and love.
I knew going in that the film had a heavy spiritual aspect; it was one of the reasons I was excited to see it. The overall theme of the story — that if you are willing to open your eyes and believe, miracles can and do happen every day, no matter how big or small they may be — is one that touches my inner romantic. But what I thought was going to be a film of how those miracles happen through the power of love, fate and coincidence (as in, grounded in human reality) actually becomes a pseudo-war between angels and demons (or in this case, order and chaos).
That’s not to say that I don’t like this type of story; if you’ve ever read or watched any of my own works, you’d know that wasn’t the case. It’s simply that I wasn’t expecting it. Had the marketing focused a little more on this aspect of the film, I may have enjoyed it more than I did. Instead, I felt the movie tried to be two things at once — a beautiful love story between two people spanning a century of time and a supernatural drama dealing with the forces of good and evil — but wasn’t sure which one it wanted to be.
Based on the novel by Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale follows Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a man whose parents left him floating in New York harbor as a baby after being denied access to the United States in the late 1800s. He is “adopted” by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, who at times seems to be sleepwalking through his performance), who grooms Peter to become a master thief, stealing jewels and diamonds because they reflect the light better than anything else — a theme that plays a large part in the film, and would have been a brilliant thematic presence had the filmmakers utilized it to the degree that it was initially set up for.
After Peter decides to quit his life of crime (for a reason that is never fully explained), Pearly does everything in his power to hunt him down, an obsession that is based on both a sense of betrayal on Peter’s part, and the need to keep him from using his miracle. You see, as the story goes, every human is born with one miracle that is to be used on one specific (and fated) person. It’s Pearly’s job, at least in New York, to find out who a person’s miracle is for and stop them from using it.
Before Peter leaves New York for good, he decides to pull one last job, leading him to meet Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a high-class socialite inflicted with a fatal disease known only as the fever. After the meeting, Pearly has a vision of a red-haired woman he believes Peter’s miracle is destined for, and begins his quest to end her before Peter can save her.
The love story here is evident, and would have been a remarkable one at that, had it not have been for the supernatural aspect taking control of every action. Not only is Pearly a demon living under the rule of Lucifer (or “the Judge,” portrayed here by Will Smith, who, for whatever reason, I did not believe for one minute in this role), but Peter is helped and guided by his spirit guide, a radiant white horse that is instrumental in Peter and Beverly’s first meeting, as well as several escapes that would have been impossible otherwise.
It’s a shame, too, since I was really invested in the love story between Peter and Beverly. Farrell delivers a winning performance, wearing every emotion on his sleeve, unafraid of being completely honest. In one of the film’s better scenes, Peter is interrogated by Beverly’s father (William Hurt, who felt a little too stoic and stock to be truly effective). He is bombarded by a series of questions without a chance to answer, and then asked to be honest and short in his response to them. How Farrell delivers those answers is a fantastic portrayal of a man whose soul is pure, no matter his human past.
Findlay is also a delight — a breath of fresh air, if you will. Even though she may be dying, Findlay plays Beverly as a warm, inviting spirit, one who absolutely loves the world and everything about it (including how the rays of light seem to connect everyone around her). Her presence ignites a fire on screen and it’s quite easy to fall in love with her.
But, because there are literal forces driving this relationship (as opposed to mysterious, unseen forces) and the story as a whole, I didn’t feel as if there was any real danger; any real emotional tug-of-war; or any real stakes. It flattens the movie out a bit too much. Not only that, but the way it’s edited, we’re introduced to two new characters in what amounts to be the third act of the film. We’re supposed to become as invested in them as we did with Beverly and her family, but we have hardly any time to get to know them, which makes the climax and subsequent resolution (and thus the film’s overall purpose) far less emotionally resonant than it should have been.
I’m not sure how the book is constructed, but I feel that if Goldsman (a fantastic writer in his own right) had chosen to focus more on the abstract than on the literal meaning of miracles (as the trailer would suggest), it would have given Winter’s Tale the heart and soul it needed to make the love story truly resonate.
My Grade: B
Next week, new movies include 3 Days To Kill and Pompeii. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.