‘Winter’s Tale’ Review
'Winter's Tale' makes 'Safe Haven' look like 'The Godfather.' It is an absurd story adapted in the most dreary way possible, with lifeless performances, dull dialogue and laughable special effects. I need to cross-reference my files, but I think it is the worst major studio release with respected actors in five years. If any of us cared about our culture at all we'd be gathering our pitchforks and storming Hollywood now.
Akiva Goldsman, whose previous crimes as a screenwriter include 'Batman & Robin,' 'Lost in Space' and 'A Time to Kill,' pulled up the director's chair for this one, too. He's taken Mark Helprin's 700-page magical realism novel and boiled it down into an incomprehensible mash of sappy absurdities. He fumbles with what few interesting elements are there, ensuring that all audience demographics will come away unhappy. From the very first shots of Colin Farrell in a Jesus wig strolling through the cheap-looking “attic” of Grand Central Terminal, you know you are in for trouble. The twist at the end – if you can make it that far – is an insulting story, to boot.
Farrell is dropped off Moses-style in New York Harbor by immigrants in the late 1800s. He becomes a thief working for Russell Crowe, who is a minion of Satan that runs the five boroughs in the late 1910s. Even though I just saw the movie a few hours ago, I still don't know if Farrell ever knew that his boss had magic powers or not. I don't think he did for sure, but then again, he doesn't seem too alarmed when he hops on a flying white horse.
Yeah, there's a flying white horse that shows up a lot in this. (His initial theft kicks off the plot, but then he disappears for most of the movie and no one seems to notice.) So, you might be thinking, oh, this is a movie for kids, why are you being so cruel?
The thing is – it isn't for kids. It is so so so painfully dull. Kids wanna see 'Frozen'. This movie is torture. So, does that mean this movie is for the 'Twilight' crowd? I suspect that's how the studio could market it. There are plenty of lengthy walks under the stars that Farrell, who is on the run from Crowe, takes with his new GF, the sickly Jessica Brown Findlay, but these are played so straight that even a deflowering scene feels like the most boring reading assignment from 6th period English. (It's the most thrust-less lovemaking I've ever seen put to film.)
You'd need to hit pause and get out pen and paper to map the complex mythology in 'Winter's Tale.' When this sort of world-building is agreeably daffy – as in the future cult classic 'Vampire Academy' – it can work to the film's favor. Here, it truly feels like the movie is making itself up as it goes along. More likely the enormous book went through a hundred rewrites and actors' schedules demanded a start date before things were locked down. As a result, blessed William Hurt, as Findlay's worried Dad, knows he's in a turkey and does his best Christopher Walken in a heart-to-heart scene where he may as well have his cue cards in his hands.
Once Farrell and Findley fall in love, Crowe wants vengeance on his former employee. After his request to cross the city's borders is rejected by his boss (Satan, in a hilarious cameo from Will Smith in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt), he figures out a way to kill Findlay from afar. This action leads to Farrell becoming immortal (yay) but having amnesia (boo.)
The second half of the film takes place today, with Jennifer Connelly as a food critic (with a 106-year-old editor!) who helps him find his destiny. This destiny involves saying “Bim Sala Bim” and making a kid's cancer disappear, which ought to piss off any parents struggling with a sick child who go out to see this on a rare date night this Valentine's Day. (That's a small sample set, but I'd still like to give this rancid film a middle finger on their behalf.)
Century-hopping tales of true love have their merit; I am no monster – I like 'Somewhere In Time.' That movie had a simple plot and charming performances. This has a CG Pegasus over Manhattan that looks like it was made on an Amiga 4000.
No one who knows what a good movie smells like will accept 'Winter's Tale.' Maybe it will inspire the hardcore devourers of young adult slop to reevaluate how their needs are changing the marketplace. It's possible the movie will make a few bucks – it's amazing how you can scam people in the door with advertising – but anyone who comes away saying this is good is trolling through life.
'Winter's Tale' opens in theaters on February 14.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.