A Romantic Movie With A Supernatural Element
DIRECTOR: AKIVA GOLDSMAN/2014
Review by Paul Reynolds
If you’re looking for a romantic movie with a supernatural element, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re looking for a satisfying fantasy and wouldn’t mind some romance on the side, I’ve got bad news for you.
Winter’s Tale, based on a novel from 1983 by Mark Helprin by the same title, is screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut, and an exercise in frustration of the most beautiful kind. It’s a lovely dream of eternal romance and fulfilling your cosmic destiny. Exactly what those things mean, however, is a question left dangling in a malaise of vague spiritual material that never coalesces into a clear mythos.
Colin Farrell stars as Peter Lake, a talented burglar recently in the employ of mob boss Pearly, played by Russell Crowe, who has recently become an enemy (we do not know why). While trying to escape Pearly’s gang, Peter finds a white horse with unusual supernatural abilities. This horse becomes his main mode of transportation for burgling assignments, and brings him to the house of Beverly Penn (Jessica Findlay Smith of Downton Abbey fame), a beautiful young woman under the death sentence of consumption. They are both immediately smitten, and their struggle to stay together despite her imminent demise covers decades and involves the participation of great cosmic forces and many celebrity cameos.
I struggle not to draw a comparison between Winter’s Tale and Goldsman’s writing career, which careens from the heights (an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, praise for Cinderella Man, and frequent teaming with Ron Howard) to the depths (Batman and Robin). When he’s on, he’s on. When he’s off…it breaks the movie.
Let me illustrate. The film paints a somber portrait of 1916 New York City. The tone is even and appropriate, even if the voice-over narration is a bit dense. I believed that I was being carried along into a meditation on light, destiny, purpose, etc. Then there is a conversation between Colin Ferrell and William Hurt that stops the movie with five minutes of out-of-left-field slapstick dialogue. Did the movie change into a comedy? I wasn’t sure.
For every frustration, there is a moment of magic.
Almost all of the cameos are inspired except for one of the biggest. The addition of the supernatural element is cause for great intrigue, until it ends up being vaguely about the devil versus…”the universe.” And that’s all the explanation the movie is going to give.
I am eager to praise the film’s sumptuous visuals and lush photography, courtesy of Caleb Deschanel, father of Zoey and a 5-time Oscar nominee for cinematography, most recently for The Passion of the Christ. JJ Abrams has been making lens flares into a ubiquitous nuisance lately, but they are used here all over the place to lovely effect. Light is a major motif in the film, and much of it happens at night in the dark with snow and ice all around. Almost every frame could be placed on your wall.
I admire the visual storytelling, as well. Instead of showing Beverly looking sick from tuberculosis, Goldsman vividly displays it through her living in outside tents in the dead of winter and standing barefoot on rapidly melting snow. The way the film plays with light and fills the frame with flares and ambience to create transcendent imagery simply cannot be overly praised.
If it sounds like I’m torn between loving this film and wringing my hands at it, it’s because I am. If you choose to indulge your romantic side, you’re in for a treat. Just make sure to check your intellectual curiosity at the door.