'Winter's Tale' (2014) Movie Review

Winter's Tale movie review
Jessica Brown Findlay and Colin Farrell in Winter's Tale
Photo: Warner Bros.

Winter's Tale tries so hard to be epic it ultimately fails at telling what could have been a decent (albeit silly) tale of love, morals and a religious battle between angels and demons. Instead it wants to be mythic. It wants so badly to create a connection to the modern world that it forgets all it needs to do is make a human connection, something it actually accomplishes early on until it tries to be something it never was.

Winter's Tale
Grade: D+

Winter's Tale"Winter's Tale" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by Akiva Goldsman and is rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. The running time is .

The cast includes Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Will Smith, Russell Crowe, Matt Bomer, Lucy Griffiths, Eva Marie Saint, Jennifer Connelly and Finn Wittrock.

Attempting to tell a story that began in the early 1900s and ends in present day, had writer/director Akiva Goldsman only stuck to the period portion of his story, adapted from the Mark Helprin novel, he would have been far better off, especially considering that's where he spends the bulk of his story, focusing on Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a master thief in 1916 that's attempting to go straight.

Peter was orphaned in the early 1900s when his parents were denied admission at Ellis Island. They were sent back to Ireland, but they plopped Peter in the harbor off the side of their ship on the way back (yes, it's as silly as it sounds) and he eventually washed ashore and was adopted by the Baymen of the Bayonne Marsh. Raised as one of their own, Peter eventually falls into a life of crime under the leadership of Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), whom we quickly learn is a demon.

Peter (so far unaware of the supernatural/religious nature of Pearly) decides being a thief isn't his thing, leaves the gang and upon being chased and just seconds from being killed is rescued by a Pegasus, which he refers to simply as "Horse" and therefore so shall I. Following this event he thinks it's best to get out of town and let things blow over, but before leaving he wants to steal a few things for the road.

Horse eventually leads him to the doorstep of Beverly Penn ("Downton Abbey" star Jessica Brown Findlay), a young girl that can see sparkly light (or something like life's aura) and is also dying from consumption. Peter breaks into her home, she's there, unafraid, offers to serve him tea and they fall in love.

These are the simplified opening moments and more than enough story to sustain the entire film as we'll soon meet Lucifer and Pearly will continue to hunt down Peter as he begins to believe he just might be the miracle that will save Beverly's life. As sappy and silly as it may sound, within its own contained world it actually works with performances from Farrell, Crowe and Findlay allowing us to buy into the melodrama.

Everything goes awry, however, when the story decides it needs to be more than a story of a destined love and the miracle that may save it. We eventually find Peter living 100 years later, in present day New York, still the same age and apparently unaware of who he even is. None of this is explained and suddenly a new plot thread picks up as if we'd been following it all along as Peter's past comes back to life, thanks to the random (or is it?) act of kindness from one woman (Jennifer Connelly) and the ultimate revelation as to who her boss at a major New York newspaper is.

This last act of the film has no place in this movie. Goldsman does nothing to develop the characters and simply relies on the hope we've bought into the "miracles are happening all around us" theme he did nothing to develop over the film's first two-thirds where he invested his time in a battle of good vs. evil and in building a story around the, seemingly, predestined meeting of two people from opposite sides of the tracks.

I can remember watching the film and almost astonishing myself as I thought, Hey, this isn't too bad, when suddenly the story I'd been watching for the past hour was, more-or-less, abandoned for a series of random events of "destiny", taking place a century after everything Goldsman had gotten us to care about.

Had Goldsman dedicated more time and reason to Peter's life between 1916 and present day perhaps it would have been easier to care about what was taking place. Considering what was at stake by the film's finale, it says quite a bit about how badly it fails when I say I didn't really care at all which way it turned out.

The period-set portion of Winter's Tale is drenched in melodrama and screwy spiritual nonsense, but it works. It's kept simple, therefore making it easier to buy into. There's also a little cameo appearance from Will Smith that is largely laughable, but within the free-wheeling nature of the story it's perfectly acceptable and no less off-putting than the stodgy performance of William Hurt as Beverly's well-to-do father.

I know there are people that believe a book should be adapted word-for-word and scene-for-scene, but it is quite clear there either wasn't enough time to tell Helprin's full story or Goldsman just wasn't up to the task. One thing is for certain, rushing through a large portion of it wasn't the best way to go.


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  • Noah Rivkin

    Brad, over the years I have noticed that you seem not to like William Hurt in the movies you have reviewed. What is your opinion on him?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      Well, he *was* in The Host.

  • http://www.silverscreenriot.com SmartFilm

    From your write up, I'm glad I missed this. In fact, it seemed that fate would have me not going as I missed both screenings by accident. Maybe magic does exist.

    As for Smith, the only reason he's in it is because the director called in a favor, so I'm hardly surprised he offers nothing in his small bit. In my opinion, Smith has really dropped in the public's eye of late. He turns down the roles that would offer him some room to breathe as a thespian for overwrought sequels, godawful dreck and hackneyed cameos. I know the public has a well of forgiveness for this type of career maneuvering but can he really even be considered A-list anymore?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Still waiting for another Colin Farrell movie as good as In Bruges.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

      Me too, man, me too...

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/topyxyz/ topyxyz

        As consolation, I liked Total Recall. But apparently I'm at the minority here.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

          Fright Night was better. But neither of them compare to In Bruges. Colin needs to step it up in terms of choosing screenplays.

    • m1

      I didn't care for In Bruges but both Seven Psychopaths and Crazy Heart were very good. Farrell has improved a lot as an actor, to say the least.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

        Blasphemy! :P It would easily make my top ten favorites of all time. I liked Seven Psychopaths and Crazy Heart too, but not as much as In Bruges.

  • Sheriff__Bullock

    I loath this time of year. Winter is sucking the life out of me and I'd gladly fork over a few bucks for some decent entertainment......too bad Hollywood is only interested in giving us $hit for the first third of the year, if not more.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      At least ballet and such are in season.

      • Sheriff__Bullock

        You're not going to find many ballet dancers where I live......I have a better chance of seeing a unicorn.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/azjoker1/ azjoker1

    I don't typically love romances but I find this intriguing. I might check it out.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    I agree with your review- There just wasn't enough time to buy into the entire scope of the film. There were also times, I felt, when voice over and certain dialogue was used to try and get me to be on board with the idea of miracles, love, and destiny, when the characters and development of them may have sufficed to convey that had they been allowed.

    By the last 40 minutes I was bored, and didn't even buy Crowe's character in the last act. There was just too much left unanswered or developed about him.

    That Findlay was absolutely wonderful though. She was so stunning on screen in such a low key way, and even though a lot of her dialogue was ridiculous, she sold it- and I fell for her performance.

  • Cj

    I read the novel and loved it. The edition of the book is almost 750 pages and I must say the way it was written was beautiful and epic. I also agree that the book is too long for a film adaptation and Akiva Goldsman, writer of Bat man and Robin was not up to the task.

  • Triin

    Why is offering a possibility to order the movie a spam ? Do the movie studios really not have a problem of people watching anything illegally ? Why then do people not support the honest way of watching them ? - disturbed, really disturbed.

  • Triin

    What is wrong with honesty ? Why is offering a possibility to order the movie a spam ? Do the movie studios really not have a problem of people watching anything illegally ? Why then do people not support the honest way of watching them ? - disturbed, really disturbed.