Here’s the main thing that bothered me at the end of Winter’s Tale. How in the hell did Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell get drawn into what is essentially Twilight for history buffs? This movie is helmed by Akiva Goldsman, an uneven director in the past who has given us both the wonderful ‘Cinderella Man’ and the ambulance chasing would be cash cow “The Da Vinci Code”… In this movie he is faced with the task of adapting a far less controversial novel, but one that is very beloved. I will note for the record that I have not read the novel this movie was based on, and any chance that I would do so has been snuffed out by this movie, although I have no doubt it was most likely a superior experience to the film.
Colin Farrell plays Peter Lake here, a character we first meet as a small baby in the late 1800s. His parents are immigrants from Ireland who get turned back at Ellis Island and as a last ditch effort to get at least part of their family into America, they put young Peter in a home-made sail ship (of immaculate construction I might add) and set him off towards the shore. Lake is eventually found by some decent people and grows up to become a world class thief, joining a gang of hoodlums lead by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). Eventually Lake wishes to split off on his own, which greatly agitates Soames, whose first recourse is to kill him, which he would have quickly accomplished were it not for the intervention of a magical heaven sent white horse. (And this is about the point it began sinking in on me exactly what kind of movie this was going to be….)
The horse, it is explained is Lake’s spirit guide. The horse rides him out of many tight corners and even sets Peter up with a lovely young lady, who also unfortunately happens to be dying of a terminal illness. The lady’s name is Beverly Penn, and she is played by the lovely and spirited Jessica Brown Findlay, in a fine little performance here. Penn and Lake fall madly in love at first site, and together find they must flee the wrath of Russell Crowe and his small army of ruffians. Oh, did I forget to mention that Pearly Soames is not just an ordinary garden variety hooligan here? He is also a demon. Yeah, like the ones in the Bible, and his job is to generally make all of humanity (in his borough at least) as miserable as possible. His boss Lucifer, of course, is played in one of the oddest pieces of casting in movie history by Will Smith. Yeah, that Will Smith.
The movie has a lot going on it for its fairly short run time. There’s magic horses, demons, time traveling, the nature of true love, eternity, (in a sense) and a classic bonked on the head amnesia storyline added to spice up the works. It’s all done as quaintly as possible, full of much speechifying about the nature of the Universe and the meaning and value of humanity as a whole. From beginning to end there are probably no less than a few dozen narrated lines that could double as either motivational posters or perhaps Hallmark cards. It all just kind of left me flat, although my wife, who I watched this movie with, and who is really into the whole Twilight thing I should say, was absolutely hooked, so perhaps for its target audience anyway, this movie worked.
For me though all I could think of while watching “Winter’s Tale” was what potential there was here for a straight up old school early 20th century Irish gangster flick with these two great Irish lead actors Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe pitted against each other in a battle of wits, plus fisticuffs, firearms, and other foreign objects. We get a little bit of that, but with a lot of other worldly mumbo jumbo and assorted melodrama mucking up the works. And a magic horse. But I digress. For them to have made the movie I wanted to have seen here they would have had to completely abandon the source material, plus completely change their target demographic. Although considering how well this did at the box office they might have been well served to do just that, as most of the Twilight age crowd apparently thought Colin and Russell were a little too close to their dad’s age to replace their beloved Edward and Jacob, and everyone else who had not read the book was just left as perplexed and befuddled as I was.
Now for all that I have said negative towards this movie let me backtrack a little heap just a little praise here. The movie is shot beautifully. The scenes set in early 20th century New York look gorgeous. Even the aforementioned magical flying fairy horse looks impressive on screen. All of the acting here is of a generally respectable to good quality, although Crowe’s performance seemed to be kind of a goof around for him doing an accent and mannerisms that seemed straight out of “Little Nicky”. All that being said this movie confirmed two long standing suspicions of mine. The first, that Russell Crowe is kind of a dick (although perhaps not to the demonic extent displayed here), and the second, Will Smith is indeed Satan.
Winter’s Tale gets a two out of five: FORGETTABLE.