This is the strangest movie I’ve seen in ages. I was never quite sure exactly what was happening until I double-checked with my movie companion afterwards – between the two of us we figured out all the things we missed.
Perhaps that might mean I didn’t like the movie. On the contrary, I loved it!
For me, movies are not like jig-saw puzzles where pieces are supposed to fit neatly one into the other. Where you’re supposed to know where you’ve been and maybe where you’re going. I don’t mind being mystified. If you can’t take a major suspension of disbelief, if you can’t be intellectually uncomfortable for 118 minutes, then maybe you might agree with most of the other critics and dismiss this movie. I hope not. Since it has been unduly savaged, you might not be able to catch it in the theatre, but do, oh, do, see it on a big screen at home.
There are many wonderful things about Winter’s Tale. Because it’s so intense and the actors are so fiercely earnest, the film seems to be a labor of love for everyone involved. Certainly it was for first-time director Akiva Goldsman, who as a writer knows a thing or two about making a movie (writer of TV’s Fringe and good movies such as I Am Legend, The DaVinci Code, A Beautiful Mind and others.)
The cinematography, set decoration, costumes and special effects are so stunning that I saw the entire movie holding my breath. It was gorgeous! You’ve never seen winter so beautiful. Rarely have lovers been so lovely. Sometimes it was almost too beautiful because you’re so entranced with the beauty that your mind wanders off from the story. But it’s a fantasy and a love story so let’s face it, how rational can it be?
Based on a 700-some page novel by Mark Helprin (1983), the tale couldn’t possibly be reduced to a 2-hour movie, so you just have to accept that there must be some blizzard-size holes in the plot and what is left doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it sometimes makes so little sense that if everyone in the movie weren’t so serious about what they’re doing, if the actors weren’t so convincingly real, if there wasn’t such a sense of weightiness in the movie, you might laugh. But that never happens. I accepted the illogical seriousness with the same attitude that all the players did.
The story: it’s a century ago in crime-plagued New York City, where rich people live in sumptuous mansions, all the women wear big flattering hats, and horses share the streets with motor cars. A burglar named Peter Lake(Colin Farrell), while trying to escape the snares of his former boss (a demon–really, a demon named Pearly, played with uncanny authority by Russell Crowe) tries to rob a house where he runs into the only occupant, an astonishing Titian beauty named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay at her most fetching). .
Of course, Peter is smitten. And so is Beverly. Yes, an unlikely couple but this is a movie about destiny, so they love one another within minutes. Only problem is that poor Beverly is dying from consumption. She walks barefoot in the snow to cool down her body. She has to sleep in a tent on top of her house to keep from getting hot, she can never have a hot bath, or dance to a sweat, and certainly never get excited by having sex. .
Beverly’s father is the famous publisher Isaac Penn (William Hurt in a heart-breaking performance) whose millions can buy anything but the health of his daughter. In his castle in the forest, he tries to keep Beverly alive –and alone–even though he has come to respect Peter Lake, who will not stop pursuing her. Peter and Beverly and Beverly’s family spend the Christmas holidays surrounded by one incredible winter scene after another, ice skating, taking sleigh rides, dancing, oh, the costumes, the sets, the longing looks — you want these two star-crossed (literally) lovers to get together. When, oh when, are they finally going to kiss? When oh when is Colin finally going to wrap Beverly in his arms and take her to bed?
Alas, fate is not kind to these two. Pearly goes to the Devil himself (a pretty ferocious Will Smith) and gets permission to hunt Peter down. Seems Pearly is mad at Peter for trying to be a good man, despite all the years that Pearly has been trying to steal his soul for the devil.
Okay, lots of complications. No spoilers here. Except that 90-some years later, Peter arrives back in New York City, alive, but not well, driving himself mad looking for a girl with red hair. Does he find her? Yes, sort of, with the help of an old lady (Eva Marie Saint) and a worried young mother (Jennifer Connelly.)
Don’t worry if you’re not always sure who’s who or who’s where or when. Doesn’t really matter. Winter’s Tale is one of the movies where you just forget logic and allow the magic to happen.