Review: 'Winter's Tale' Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly

Reviews
by Drew Taylor
February 12, 2014 11:44 AM
24 Comments
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Akiva Goldsman is one of those Hollywood screenwriters who has accrued a fair amount of animosity over the years, both because of his perceived lack of talent (he did have a hand in scripting "Batman & Robin," "The Da Vinci Code," and "Lost in Space," amongst others) and for his almost unparalleled level of success (he won a Best Screenplay Oscar for his work on Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind," and in the process taught us all that mental illness could be cured through the healing power of love). Regardless of what you think of him, Goldsman has genuine power, and for the past few years has used that power to secure funding for a lavish adaptation of novelist Mark Helprin's goopy 1983 supernatural romance "Winter's Tale." It is the ultimate Akiva Goldsman statement, mixing both his propensity for high concept gobbledygook with cloying, saccharine sentimentality. The result is a colossal folly the likes of which we haven't seen in years. It's truly unbelievable. We're still reeling.

While the trailers and television spots for "Winter's Tale" are selling it as a sweeping, time-traveling romance, the opening sequences make it very clear that the movie is more like what would happen if Nicholas Sparks wrote "Cloud Atlas"—there are a number of timelines, some supernatural elements, and a whole lot of breathy narration about miracles and chance and fate. But unlike "Cloud Atlas," which was nothing if not ambitious and heady, "Winter's Tale" is lazy and repetitive and doesn't have a whole lot on its mind, coming across instead like an empty-headed, lovesick doodle. This is the kind of movie where the Warner Bros. logo is revealed, before turning a sepia tone the color of iced tea, while sickly sweet music overtakes the soundtrack.

At the turn of the century, a pair of immigrants (one of them is played by Matt Bomer in silly old-timey garb) try to gain access to America, only to be turned away once they've arrived because they aren't healthy enough. They're instructed, by a horribly rendered lens flare (seriously—the movie is riddled with them) to set their baby inside a model ship and then send that baby towards America. You can tell Goldsman is attempting to create and sustain an atmosphere of magical realism, but it instead comes across as strained, half-assed whimsy. While all of this is happening, the story is also jumping forward to present day, where a bedraggled man named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is searching Grand Central Station for clues to his past, sort of like a middle-aged Hugo.

Soon enough, the story starts in earnest (and we do mean earnest), with Peter Lake, in 1916 Manhattan, running away from a violent crime boss named (get this) Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). It looks like Peter's proverbial goose is cooked, until a magical white horse named Athansor (!) shows up and whisks Peter away, by literally flying over the amassed group of gangsters and thugs. Jesus. Just recounting the plot is painful. Imagine having to watch it. Peter decides that the horse is his new partner in crime and begins plans to leave the city. That is, of course, until, once again egged on by the horse and another phony flash of a computer-generated lens flare, has him breaking and entering the house of a gorgeous, consumptive young woman named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). It's love at first sight, she curbs his bad boy behavior, blah blah blah

The details of "Winter's Tale's" plot, which might borrow its name from the Shakespeare classic but has nothing to do with it, are so asinine and unimportant that they don't really need to be recounted here. (In our notes that we took during the movie, the words "TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE" are double-underlined.) You should probably know that Will Smith shows up at some point as The Judge, giving us the alternate universe thrill of seeing what would have happened if Jay-Z had played the Robert De Niro part in "Angel Heart." Smith, whose apartment in 1916 is decked out in a modern chaise lounge, reads from "A Brief History of Time" (yuk) and wears a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt and hooped earrings in both of his lobes. It's at this point that "Winter's Tale" goes from being pointless and stupid and awful to being straight-up insufferable, that rare monstrosity that is so sure of its own importance and cleverness that it can't even allow itself to be funny.

Peter Lake's love, of course, succumbs, and Crowe's minions catch up with him and drop him off a bridge (don't worry, the magical flying horse gets away unharmed). Lake crawls out of the water, though, which is when "Winter's Tale" doesn't even bother explaining itself, because we're suddenly in modern day New York City, without any clue whether or not Lake has woken up from some kind of supernatural stupor really, really late, or if he's been living in New York for a hundred years in a kind of amnesiac fugue state. (How does such a person, say, pay Manhattan rent? Especially when all he does is draw elaborate chalk drawings of his doomed lover?) The Demonic Russell Crowe is still around, of course, and still supremely pissed off (why? Let it simmer Demonic Russell Crowe!) Meanwhile, Farrell has fallen into some kind of relationship with a plucky, incredibly beautiful reporter (Jennifer Connelly), whose daughter is similarly afflicted, this time with a more modern medical ailment. Cue talk about miracles, and ascending to the stars, and people turning into piles of crushed snow when you kill them. Also: another appearance by Will Smith as hip-hop Satan! Yes!

"Winter's Tale" is unbelievable, in that you seriously cannot believe how fucking stupid it is. It seems to top itself, scene after scene, piling on general ludicrousness, dopey philosophical underpinnings, supernatural hooey (complete with nonsensical "mythology" and "rules"), with all the sophistication of a bedtime story and the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face (yes, those are our bloody teeth, thanks). It doesn't even make any sense in the bubble-world of its own invention, like when Eva Marie Saint shows up as the elderly version of a young girl that Peter knew back in olden times. He has supposedly been gone (or underground or whatever) for more than 100 years. So she is supposed to be, what, 115 by now? Goldsman, whose direction is as poor as his writing, seems to suggest that none of this really matters, because of something about the transformative power of love and flying horses (who are really dogs?) and the eternal struggle between good and evil.

This is a movie that is many things—a profound work of hubris, a misguided attempt at filmmaking, incredibly boring—and yet it is nothing. Instead of being overwhelmed by the woozy feeling that the best big screen romances give you, "Winter's Tale" just leaves you befuddling and probably more than a little bit angry. A lot of good actors (including Farrell, who has been so great in things as disparate as the splatter comedy "Seven Psychopaths" and the deeply-underrated horror remake "Fright Night") are wasted, many of them former Goldsman collaborators who are only here because the filmmaker called in a favor, and the entire movie feels belabored, lumbering from one awful, over-dressed set piece to another. It's wrongheaded, it's horrendous, it's filled with lines of dialogue that are utter howlers, and yet, it's the type of movie that feels so confident that it really is something. It is, in fact, not. This Valentine's Day, if you really love someone, keep them far away from "Winter's Tale." [F]

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24 Comments

  • Zoe | March 10, 2014 10:56 AMReply

    I thought the film was fine until the final 1/3rd, when they introduced Random Cancer Girl. There was not time to care about her.

    But I did think Farrell and Findlay were wonderful and convincing as the lovers, very touching, and the love scene was beautiful.

    I get why the reviewer had problems with the movie. However, this review is a bit OTT! There were good things about the film: it was visually stunning, the acting was good, etc.

    He does say "a lot of good actors were wasted." So perhaps he could have leavened his savage criticism with a bit of praise for THEM at least. It's not their fault Goldsman was out of his depth, and they made the best of it. Enough to make me enjoy parts of the film a lot.

    And the audience in my theater (on opening night) seemed to like it as well, men and women both. Everyone was quite and attentive, laughed at the appropriate times (there is some genuine humor in the film), and no one grumbled.

    It's not for everyone but it's not as bad as suggested here. I think plenty of people would find plenty to enjoy.

    And I have noticed that the reviewers who write for more prominent publications (like the New York Times and the LA Times) have been more measured in their criticism and written more insightful reviews. Same with those from smaller city papers, as well as some other respected entertainment blogs like "Variety." They found things to praise.

    Too bad the reviewer couldn't do anything but mock it.

  • Teresa | March 5, 2014 12:13 PMReply

    People who didn't like this film are most likely those who have their feet planted too firmly on the ground. For those whose veil has been lifted...you will love it because you will understand its symbolism. You will understand its depth.

    In the words of Roald Dahl "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

  • John C. Wright | February 28, 2014 12:20 PMReply

    Dear Jerk, This is one of the best movies ever. It is the only 'magical realism' movie that does both the magic as magical and the realism as realistic. It is a movie of wonder and love and loss and hope after loss. It is a film as rare and fair as starlight seen above the clouds.

    Were you trapped for a month in a picklebarrel as a child and survived by eating rats and now you hate everything bright and good? Is that it?

  • Anthony | February 24, 2014 3:17 PMReply

    I assume the people commenting here defending the film are relatives of Akiva Goldsman, because that's the only way I could understand anyone enjoying this piece of garbage.

    Good review.

  • Mikeylla | February 17, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    I don't understand why the people didn't like the movie. However, it clearly says "love fantasy movie". It was the best movie I have ever seen this year so far. Colin and Jessica just tore our hearts into two pieces with their natural performance... I should admit this movie really affected me...the tea scene...Peter's loyalty to his endless love... It was extremely good twist to involve good and evil as well. As they mentioned in the movie's name, they really created a perfect love in our minds. Probably I will go to see the second time... They had clearly mentioned in the movies' title that it's a tale... So don't expect it will be realistic as the movie called" Notebook". But, I should say that it is my second favorite movie after "Notebook". It certainly deserves to be rated much much better. From 5 stars, it really deserves to be 5 stars... I will certainly add this movie to my DVD collection when it's available... very good twist with extraordinary performance with Colin and Jessica...

  • Chris Healey | February 15, 2014 6:20 PMReply

    Clearly this person writing the review was not loved as a child and picked on in school the film was very good....

  • Byron | February 15, 2014 7:16 AMReply

    Everything Akiva Goldsman has ever done has been garbage. Why did anyone expect this would be different? At least Uwe Boll doesn't ruin seminal works of fiction like 'I Am Legend'. Please god this turkey torpedoes his career.

    Laughing at the butthurt 'reviews of the review' too.

  • Joe | February 14, 2014 7:25 PMReply

    I couldn't finish the review. Justifiably bad movie or not, the reviewer doesn't know how to write. I vote this among the worst written reviews. Ever. Oh, and the comparison between Jay-Z and Will Smith smacks a wee dab of racism.

  • Mikeylla | February 17, 2014 5:08 PM

    As a legal representative, I have to ask what part in the movie you found the racism, or do you know the meaning of racism? Really???? Come on.... We aren't talking about the movie called "The Butler". I guess you're not in a right movie blog... But, If you still think the movie was so offensive and racist, I guess I can make a couple debate about racism for this movie in a legal perspective...But, believe me.. I'm making money from the law. Furthermore, I never saw any single racist comment or scene at all...It was in contrast actually... : It was giving a message saying"You don't love someone because of their looks or their clothes or their material things. You love them because they sing a song only your heart can understand. Some things are destined to be -- it just takes us a couple of tries
    to get there.”I don't think you are there though

  • Mary | February 14, 2014 11:40 AMReply

    I couldn't get all the way through this review. Forget the movie - this review is crass and offensive. I was looking for a diligent review, not one with low class wording and a completely uncalled for reference to the son of God.

  • Claudia | February 14, 2014 10:23 AMReply

    I saw the movie yesterday and I couldn't agree more with the reviewer. It's all that, and then some. Plus, Gabrielle, despite the fact that your remarks about the novel are extremely interesting - and it looks they destroyed it in the big screen-, a movie reviewer shouldn't be forced to read the original material of every movie he reviews - plus, nowadays it would be impossible. He reviews what he has seen in those two hours which should be what the screenwriter and director aim for, an audience who didn't access the original material and still finds some sense in what's going on here. The problem is not the magical realism, it is that the codes you are supposed to give to the audience so they understand anything can happen are not given here, it is simply nonsense after nonsense and extremely incomprehensible dialogues that do not advance the plot at all.

  • Gabrielle | February 13, 2014 5:17 PMReply

    I read the book and i loved it. Yes it is magical realism. It takes a lot of creativity to take a book like this and adapt it to the screen (which is why no one has made a movie out of 100 years of solitude - or if they have - has anyone heard of it?).

    I am reluctant to see the movie - because i have LOVED the book. WHICH the romance is not the main focus - it is one of the story lines. The way the author talks about NYC is like someone talking of a lover as well. NYC becomes the main character of the book. The imagery is wonderful. (especially if you grew up in NY like i did). And the time line, which runs 1900 - 2000 takes leaps - and people show up now and again and there is a mystical town in the catskills - etc. All of which I could never hope to be redone in a movie form... which is why we have books - so our imaginations can create what movies can't ever do.

    Maybe the reviewer should have read the book first? and then could have written a review about the problem of adaptation instead of an unbelievable story line.

  • Mikeylla | February 17, 2014 4:54 PM

    It is not same as the book, and can't be in two hours. but there is a very good and smart twist...In my opinion, you should see the movie... Forget the book. Just watch their performance...Their look to each other... their touch... Their sensivity...Colin just killed it with his extra ordinary performance as usual. You really feel like they ove each other in the real life as well. I don't understand why the people didn't like the movie. However, it clearly says "love fantasy movie". It was the best movie I have ever seen this year so far. Colin and Jessica just tore our hearts into two pieces with their natural performance... I should admit this movie really affected me...the tea scene...Peter's loyalty to his endless love... It was extremely good twist to involve good and evil as well. As they mentioned in the movie's name, they really created a perfect love in our minds. Probably I will go to see the second time... They had clearly mentioned in the movies' title that it's a tale... So don't expect it will be realistic as the movie called" Notebook". But, I should say that it is my second favorite movie after "Notebook". It certainly deserves to be rated much much better. From 5 stars, it really deserves to be 5 stars... I will certainly add this movie to my DVD collection when it's available... very good twist with extraordinary performance with Colin and Jessica...

  • Eugenia Savkina | February 13, 2014 4:30 PMReply

    "Winter's tale" is absolutely brilliant. I can't get why people don't like this movie. It's a great mystery for me.

  • Mikeylla | February 17, 2014 4:57 PM

    I certainly agree wit you. Usually my husband is really serious guy, and don't show his feelings. But, after the movie he even couldn't leave the sit for 5 minutes... It was brilliant...It is my second favorite movie after Notebook...

  • AP/IL | February 13, 2014 11:03 AMReply

    Y'know? Screw you. I can't even say how many times I've like movies that you pompous idiot reviewers have trashed. Hopefully this is going to be another one because I have definite plans to see it this weekend.

  • Bill | February 12, 2014 5:04 PMReply

    But you thought Cloud Atlas was good? NOT ME

  • Harmonica | February 12, 2014 4:32 PMReply

    "In our notes that we took during the movie, the words "TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE" are double-underlined."

    You're taking notes during a movie screening??? Pardon me, but that's unbelievably irresponsible! You disrupt your concentration and you miss so many things on screen while writing something in your notepad.

  • Kimber | February 13, 2014 10:22 AM

    When you do this for a living, you're able to watch the movie AND write notes at the same time. It's not actually that hard.

  • Papushisun | February 12, 2014 12:35 PMReply

    I haven't read it but the novel is held in high regard.

  • PRESIDENT MAO | February 12, 2014 12:12 PMReply

    But did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln? Seriously, it's a movie written by Akiva "Sugar Rush" Goldsman... What dis you expect?

  • Evan | February 12, 2014 12:08 PMReply

    Can't say I didn't expect this.

  • cory everett | February 12, 2014 11:49 AMReply

    FROM THE WRITER OF 'BATMAN & ROBIN.' That is all.

  • Steven | February 12, 2014 5:48 PM

    Exactly. Never trust a guy who has Batman introducing the villain by saying... "Hi Freeze, I'm Batman!!!!".

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