Thursday, February 13, 2014

“Winter’s Tale” – Movie Review




This week in my movie class, we saw the fantasy-drama, “Winter’s Tale”, starring Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe.


When a man thought to be dead a century ago suddenly reappears in the present day, he tries to avenge the death of his girlfriend – but will his devilish former employer, endowed with immortality, ruin his plans?


As an infant in the late 19th century, the parents of Peter Lake (Farrell) try to emigrate to the United States after sailing to New York City from Europe – but when they are denied entrance due to the father’s illness, they decide to leave their baby behind so that he may have a chance for a better life in America. Orphaned, a teenage Peter is eventually taken under the wing of Pearly Soames (Crowe) an evil gangster who leads a group of thieves; Pearly decides that Peter will become his protégé and teaches him how to become a master burglar. Peter then sets off in his new career as a youthful criminal.

Maturing, Peter realizes that this lifestyle is wrong, but when he tries to flee from Pearly’s clutches, Pearly sends his gang after him. During the chase, Peter finds a mystical white horse with special abilities; the horse helps him escape from Pearly’s gang – but Pearly won’t let it end there. Suddenly on his own, Peter realizes he needs one last burglary before he can go straight – but he aborts his attempt when breaking into the Manhattan home of the wealthy Penn family and discovers the beautiful Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), a talented pianist struck ill with consumption. The two fall in love with each other, but Beverly suddenly dies after being poisoned by Pearly; despite Peter’s best efforts, he cannot revive her.

In a later confrontation with Pearly, Peter is badly beaten and left for dead in the waters of The East River at the foot of The Brooklyn Bridge. After a century’s absence, Peter mysteriously resurfaces in the present day of New York City; he doesn’t appear to have aged, but he does seem to have amnesia as he can’t even remember his own name. Obsessing over an image of a young red-headed woman, he can’t recall that the image is of Beverly. Finding mementos from his past, Peter tries to jog his memory about who he is; in his journey, he encounters Virginia (Jennifer Connelly), a journalist with a cancer-stricken daughter who aids him. Meanwhile, Pearly, a demonic disciple of Lucifer, has survived all these decades; when he learns of Peter’s return, can Pearly stop Peter before he has a chance to save Virginia’s daughter?


Prior to the screening, our instructor lectured us on the unusual genre of “Winter’s Tale”, which is called “Magical Reality” – not quite fantasy, it is essentially a reality-based story that contains occasional magical occurrences interspersed throughout. Upon hearing this, I was immediately struck with a dreaded fear that this movie would be a real challenge for me; generally, I try to go into each one of these screenings with a more or less neutral feeling so I can at least make an attempt at being objective. Unfortunately, my worst fears were confirmed – “Winter’s Tale” is a confused mess of cluttered, mawkish thoughts on spirituality, miracles and love in its various forms.

This movie is of course based on the successful novel of the same name by author Mark Helprin; the screenplay was adapted by noted screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who also made his directorial debut with “Winter’s Tale”. Despite Goldsman’s rather impressive credentials, the storytelling technique in this film is particularly muddled; given how much trouble I had understanding the logic of the magical world these characters inhabited, it would be hard to fault the filmmaker for encountering similar difficulties. “Winter’s Tale” might be more well-received (and better understood) by those who actually read the novel that was its source material, as may have also been the case with “Cloud Atlas”.

Following the screening, our instructor read us some information from the production notes sent by the studio; this served to provide a little insight to the movie (and possibly, what went wrong here). When the studio initially read the script for the film, they determined that the budget necessary would likely be somewhere around $75 million, but they were unwilling to commit to that figure; instead, they decided on a budget of slightly more than half of that amount, $41 million. Goldsman was a huge fan of the novel and had long been interested in participating in its adaptation to the big screen. His desire to make this motion picture was restored after his wife passed away prematurely; Goldsman decided to donate his director’s fee to help fund the picture and called in a bunch of favors to people whom he’s known over the years – the big-name talent all worked for scale.

While “Winter’s Tale” may have been successful in serving as much-needed cathartic therapy for the mourning filmmaker, there’s not much of use for filmgoers. Romantics may flock to it in its Valentine’s Day weekend opening, but regardless of whether or not they are enthusiastic about it, the movie will likely fall off everyone’s radar rather quickly, I’m afraid.

Winter's Tale (2014) on IMDb 6.0/10127 votes

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