Question: what do the films THE CLIENT, BATMAN & ROBIN, A TIME TO KILL, LOST IN SPACE, I, ROBOT, CINDERELLA MAN, THE DA VINCI CODE, I AM LEGEND and the Oscar-winning A BEAUTIFUL MIND have in common? They were all written or co-written by the same person: Akiva Goldsman. He definitely has one of the most mix-bag filmography than any other screenwriter working today. For every good or decent films that he writes, he follows it up with something really mediocre or terrible (having BATMAN & ROBIN on your CV, would be the low point of any writer’s career). However I must admit I was very curious about his latest project WINTER’S TALE, which is an adaptation of a best-selling romantic fantasy/drama novel by Mark Helprin. It sounded really interesting and it was really intrigued by the fact that it also mark Goldsmith’s debut as a director. So which side of the coin does this film fall on his CV? Read on and find out!
Set during a New York in 1916 the film tells the story of a young thief named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell). While on the run from an evil Irish gangster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), Peter decides that he is going to do one last burglary so that he can get enough money to get out of the city. Thinking that there was nobody home, he breaks into the house of one of the city’s most richest men Isaac Penn (William Hurt) . However to his shock, Peter discovers that the house isn’t empty at all and meets Penn’s daughter Beverly (Jessica Brown Finlay), who is dying from tuberculosis. After getting to know each other, they imminently fall in love. However what they both don’t realise is that chance meeting is a part of something much greater that’ll happen nearly a century later in 2014.
After reading the synopsis, I bet you’re getting feeling that there is a lot more to the plot than that. Well, you are definitely right. But I decided not to reveal anymore since that would go into spoiler territory. However what I can say is, is that is a strange film. Interesting, but strange. To be honest, I’m not sure how i really feel about it yet. I give Goldman credit for picking something that’s extremely ambitious for his directional debut, unfortunately it never really comes together as a whole. While I haven’t read the novel that the film based on, but I have heard that its one of those books that very hard to adapt and while watching it I can see why (Martin Scorsese once tried to make it a long time ago but ultimately, he felt that the novel was ‘unfilmable’). This is a film tackles many ideas and themes with its story: love, romance, destiny, guardian angels, magic, spirituality, death, miracles, immorality and the battle between good and evil. Plus it even has a flying white horse in it.
That’s a lot things to cover for a film and Goldman’s script tries to cram it all in its 2 hour running time but it ends up feeling a bit messy and unfocused. I think if the film probably would have worked a lot better if it were 2.5 to 3 hours long, that way it would have had more time to further developed certain aspects of the story. Particularly the fantasy elements, which I must admit I was a little confused at the beginning since the film never really sets up what’s going on in the world of this story (I have a feeling that’s it’s probably all explained in a lot more detail in the novel). Also despite the love story being major part of the film, sadly it didn’t quite resonant with me on an emotional level. It just felt rather rushed and there wasn’t much of a buildup to make it more effective. Plus some of the supporting cast don’t really much to do with their characters: Jennifer Connelly was criminally wasted with her role and Russell Crowe was a little too over-the-top as the film’s villain “Pearly Soames” (plus it didn’t help that Crowe’s Irish accent didn’t work at all, which I found to be unintentionally funny at times).
Despite the film being pretty flawed, there are aspects of it that I did really like. Even though I thought that the romance between their two characters could have been much stronger, I did think that both Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Finlay were both gave pretty good performances. Both their roles were the key element that kept me engaged throughout the film. Especially newcomer Finlay, who had a lovely presence as “Beverly”. As I said earlier while I did think that some of the supporting cast were a bit underused, some of them made the most of what they had and gave good turns nonetheless. Despite not being in the film for too long, legendary actress Eve Marie Saint brought a lot class to her performance and *MILD SPOILERS* Will Smith shows up to give a solid cast-against-type role performance as “Lucifer” (yes, you read that correctly) *END OF SPOILERS*. Another thing while I did think that Goldman’s script wasn’t really that strong, surprisingly I thought he did a pretty good job with his direction. He directs it pretty well from start to finish and he even has a really good visual eye as well. Also the gentle score by both Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Wagner is absolutely beautiful and moving, the cinematography by Caleb Deschanel is terrific (the film’s appropriate dark and cold look is absolutely sublime. This one great looking film), the production/design is great and the CGI is pretty solid for most part.
Overall while there was a lot that I both liked and admired about WINTER’S TALE, but sadly its an extremely flawed film that doesn’t achieve in living up to the ambitiousness of its story. However that being said, I must admit that I actually wouldn’t mind revisiting it again at some point in the future. Just to see how I feel about how I process and feel about it on a second watch. Even though I haven’t read it, I can assume that fans of the novel will enjoy it and for everyone else, I’m not quite sure. It’s not a good film by any means and it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but it’s definitely an interesting one nonetheless
– Bede Jermyn