Film review: A WINTER’S TALE, from Built For Speed

Adapted from Mark Helprin’s expansive 1983 novel and in no way connected to the similarly-named Shakespeare play, A Winter’s Tale offers a slightly more mature take on the teen lit obsessions of forbidden romantic passions and conflict between supernatural beings.  Unfortunately, what could have been a thrilling fantasy adventure and moving story of romantic longing is neutered by a jumbled plot, outrageously cheesy fairy-tale sequences and an infuriating lack of character detail.

In what begins as a Gangs of New York style drama set on the city’s violent streets in the early 20th century, the film sees professional thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) hunted by a deadly gang of thugs led by Irish crime boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  The grimy New York setting, however, disguises a latent supernatural world of angels and demons in which Pearly and his gang are the demonic overlords of the five boroughs.   For reasons that aren’t entirely clear but seem vaguely connected to Peter’s ability to conjure miracles, Pearly and his demonic henchmen want Peter dead.  When Peter falls for the beautiful but consumptive Beverley (Jessica Brown Findlay) he inadvertently makes her Pearly’s target and propels himself into a life of painful longing and supernatural conflict that will last for almost a century.

For the romantic side of this film to work it needed to immerse audiences in the characters’ lives and make viewers care about them.  With an annoying lack of character backstory, though, it’s difficult to form an emotional connection with the people in this story.  Also, as it clumsily pieces together its fractured mythology, it fails to establish any momentum or excitement and consequently fails as a supernatural adventure .

Worst of all, though, the film is littered with outrageous cheese-ball sequences involving Snow White-style resurrections and a flying Pegasus-like horse that always seems to turns up in the nick of time to save Peter.  Also, the inevitable fight scene between Crowe and Farrell is one of the clunkiest and least thrilling in screen history.

Akiva Goldsman, in his debut directorial feature, seemed uncertain what type of film he wanted to create as A Winter’s Tale makes strange and jarring tonal shifts between cheesy fantasy and violent drama.  One minute Farrell’s gutting a villain with a knife, the next he’s flying across the New York skyline on a gleaming white horse in a special effect that could have come from the film Xanadu. It’s unclear exactly whom this film is aimed at as it’s too corn-ball for adults, the cast are too old to attract the teens and it’s too violent for the tweens.  Still, some of the sequences set in early 20th century New York impress as period spectacle with sumptuous cinematography, ornate production design and detailed costuming.

Despite an, at times, ridiculous role Farrell still manages to deliver the sort of larrikin charm that helped make him a star in the first place.  Crowe, however, does himself no favours.  He has essentially transferred his hateful, relentless and mostly laughable Javert character from Les Miserables’ to this role but added a beefier frame and a ludicrous Leprechaun voice.  The two female leads, Jessica Brown Findlay and (very late in the film) Jennifer Connelly, both of whom become Peter’s love interests and both of whom have to confront death in different ways, deliver the most convincing and emotionally affecting performances in the film. 

While not quite a turkey, A Winter’s Tale is a strange and awkward confection of fantasy, romance and street violence that mostly demeans a quality cast.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Romance/ Fantasy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Akiva Goldsman.

Release date: 13th Feb 2014.

Running time:  118 mins.


Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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