Director: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, McKayla Twiggs, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly, Ripley Sobo, Eva Marie Saint
Winter’s Tale is a supernatural-romantic-time traveling film that includes battles between good and evil, doomed lovers, a magical horse, a man that never ages, and the possibility that miracles do exist. Set against the backdrop of past and present day New York City, it brings forth the questions about complexities of destiny and whether or not all our fates are intertwined.
The story opens in 1985 when a young couple with a baby boy is on a ship that is docking America’s shores just outside of New York. The couple is denied entrance to the new world because they are marked as unhealthy travelers. Determined to make sure their son gets to enjoy the opportunities of a new homeland, the couple places the baby in a model ship, lowers the ship into the ocean, and pray that as the ship floats away with its tiny cargo a Moses-like miracle will happen and someone will find their son and take care of him. Fast forward to 1916 and the little baby is now 21-year-old rogue, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell – who by the way is 38 playing someone who is 21 – seriously – there are no 21 year old actors available?). Peter is on the run from his crime lord boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). In the beginning of the film, Pearly and his henchman catch up with Peter with the intention of killing him because he does not follow his mentor’s instructions. Just when he is surrounded with no escape in sight, out of nowhere appears a beautiful white horse. Peter, grabbing the good fortune that just happened to show up, hops on the horse and much to his surprise the lovely four-legged creature is able to leap across the group of gangsters, taking Peter to safety. Pearly is snarling at his failed attempted to end the life of Peter Lake.
Peter, a skilled thief, makes plans to leave the city after one final heist. He breaks into the mansion of newspaper mogul Isaac Penn (William Hurt), and comes across Penn’s dying daughter, the whimsical and gorgeous Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay). Falling hopelessly in love, it is Beverly that starts to curb Peter’s appetite for pursuing a life of crime. Meanwhile in another part of the city we discover (through CGI effects) that Pearly is actually a demon that uses his supernatural abilities to figure out that if he finds the girl of Peter’s dreams he will find Peter.
As a form of the ultimate revenge Pearly is about to kill Beverly when – you guessed it – Peter comes riding in on the white horse to save his damsel in distress. They ride off to the countryside (or rather fly – turns out the horse maybe Pegasus) where Beverly’s family owns a winter retreat. Here Peter is embraced by Beverly’s father and her little sister Willa (McKayla Twiggs). Willa tells Peter that she knows he can save her dying sister with a miracle of a kiss and true love. But, as fate would have it Pearly figures out a way to kill off Peter’s lady, finds his protege in time to beat him up, throw him over a bridge, and leave him for dead. All this is done with the permission of none other than The Judge – aka Satan (Will Smith).
Fast forward to 2014 and Peter just pops out of the water as a man with no memory and trying to find out why he keeps drawing a girl with red hair. This leads him to cross paths with Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) and her sick little girl Abby (Ripley Sobo). But once again, the nasty Irish accented demon Pearly is hot on Peter’s trail.
This movie with its Snow White plot twist is a mumbo jumbo of distorted scenes topped off with cheesy dialogue. It feels like bits and pieces of the 1983 novel written by Mark Halprins were torn from the book, sewn together, and created a patch work of events that make little to no sense. We never see who saved the little boy from the water but more than half way through the movie Peter shows up with an elderly American Indian man that we just somehow figure out was the guy that raised him… but then Peter makes references to being an orphan. So was he alone growing up or did he have someone? We never fully understand how Peter is ageless. Not to mention the question, was he just floating around the water for the past 100 years just suddenly waking up and crawling back to shore to be with the living? Was he dead and resurrected, or was Peter always alive? These questions are never answered in the film.
When Satan shows up it is supposed to be a foreboding and scary feeling, but the stylish-looking Will Smith in his swanky clothes just made me laugh. I did not know Satan wore designer duds and earrings. Then there is the horse. No explanation to why the mystical creature shows up and then there are references to the horse being a guardian angel, but it is never clear if that is the case. Pearly sees the future through light but then wait – he also can see visions through drawings done in blood. Is anyone making any sense of this yet? Then in 2014 Peter manages to find adult Willa (Eva Marie Saint) who is now head of her father’s newspaper empire. But did anyone realize how unlikely it will be for a woman, who is at least a 100 years old (more like 116 years old according to my estimate) to be walking around in stilettos playing editor and chief?
The one saving grace for Winter’s Tale is that the romance between Peter and Beverly is very believable and super romantic. The filmmaker’s goal to make us believe that this ethereal love story is real is accomplished through pretty set designs, long lingering looks, and smiles. The chemistry between Farrell and Findlay is awesome and one can only dream of being that much in love. Hurt is convincing as the overprotective father, and Crowe is great as the pissed off demon growling his way through the film. Child stars Twiggs and Sobo are both very endearing and likeable on screen. If Smith’s portrayal of Satan was supposed to comical then that goal was accomplished, but I have a feeling that was not the case.
Winter’s Tale is being released just in time for Valentine’s day. If you are looking for a romantic, tear-jerking film to enjoy with your honey, you may be disappointed that your time and energy will be spent more on trying to make sense of all the loose ends. Perhaps a nice dinner, some flowers, and candy will be a better option to put some romance into your life.