Movies: Winter's Tale

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe
Directed By: Akiva Goldsman
Written By: Akiva Goldsman from the novel by Mark Helprin
Warner Bros., 2014
PG-13; 118 mins
2 stars (out of 5)


There is a nice idea, maybe even a good story in here somewhere, but the Hollywood machine has mangled it.

I haven't read the book, so I can only give you the plot as put forth by the movie: In the early 1900s Peter Lake was an orphan raised by Pearly Soames and trained to be a fantastic thief. But Peter and Pearly fall out when Peter's kind heart keeps him from harming people. We don't see any of this bit, mind; it's all exposition through dialogue, and truly awful at that. What we do see is Pearly and his henchmen chasing Peter, and Peter finding a fantastical horse, and that horse leading him to the Penn house where Peter thinks to do one final steal before leaving town and letting the Pearly thing blow over.

But the Penn house isn't entirely empty. Lovely and consumptive young Beverly is home, and it is love at first sight for both. Peter rescues Beverly from Pearly & Co. and gets to go with her up to the family's country manor and the whole thing goes a bit Titanic in flavor (rich young lady in love with boy who has nothing) . . . And then Beverly dies.

Fast forward to 2014 and Peter is still alive but has forgotten his own name much less Beverly or anything else. He spends his days drawing chalk art of a red-headed woman, the same picture again and again. God only knows how he lives. Does he still steal stuff? The movie doesn't bother to tell us because the moviemakers don't seem to think it's important. But seriously, how did he get through the past century (give or take a decade)?

We're supposed to assume, of course, that the red-haired woman Peter keeps drawing is Beverly, but then Peter meets a red-haired little girl dying of cancer and things click into place. And at the same moment he remembers who he is and why he's still alive, Pearly Soames (also still alive, since he's actually a demon) becomes aware that Peter is still around too.

It's not clear to me whether we're supposed to think the little girl is a reincarnation of Beverly. The IMDb description mentions reincarnation, so maybe that was the intent, but it's not blatantly obvious from the movie itself. The stuff that is made blatant . . . It's all the wrong stuff. The expositional dialogue that I previously mentioned, and the somewhat too on-the-nose themes. The movie begins and ends with Beverly narrating, and that just puts it all over the top.

I found that I really wanted it to be about the teapot. That Peter's destiny got railroaded when Beverly was home that day, and that he was really just meant to steal the china. Ridiculous maybe, but that would have been a wily twist and far less soppy than all that does happen in the film.

The best thing about the movie was Will Smith turning up as Lucifer. And that's less than five minutes of screen time.

Thing is, I love stories about destiny and soul mates and love that comes back around in wonderful and interesting ways. But this just see-sawed between flat and outright ridiculous. Some of the themes were laid on so heavy as to hang like wet velvet, and other stuff was skipped over entirely. It left me wondering who made these choices and why? Who wrote the tacky dialogue? Was it lifted directly from the book or crafted to tell the story because they couldn't think of a better way to communicate it otherwise? (If that's the case—if you have a book that needs that kind of dialogue to become a movie, a book that can't be acted—don't let them turn your book into a movie.)

At the end of it all, my only thought was, What a shame. What a shame that what might have been a grand story, if only it had been told differently, was reduced to this.


Trisha F said...

I considered seeing this, as it's the "cheap movie of the week" where I live. But I had seen mixed reviews.

I haven't read the book either.

M said...

I might try the book, just out of curiosity. My understanding is the film excised a lot of the overtly spiritual (religious) themes in the book. Even still, that means the book must be thick with it. I mean, names like Peter and Pearly . . .

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Neil Gaiman recommended the movie as I recall. Strange. Maybe he remembered the book and not the movie!