Movie review in the Friday, Feb. 14 Oregonian....
The problem is that "Winter's Tale" wants to be a magical romance that leaves you feeling like the universe might be full of secret purpose, but the actual movie that was written and filmed is convoluted, over-narrated and deeply silly.
If you're going to title your film anywhere in the neighborhood of a Shakespeare play, even a "problem" Shakespeare play, you probably need to put a little extra shoulder into the screenwriting part of your job. Writer/director Akiva Goldsman -- adapting Mark Helprin's much-liked, much-vaster 1984 novel -- does not do this, though at least he starts things off with an intriguing story hook.
A man named Peter (Colin Farrell) is wandering around modern-day New York with memory issues. He finds mysterious items in a tiny attic space in the ceiling of Grand Central Station. We soon learn, in an epic flashback, that Peter has been the same age since 1916, when he was a thief chased around New York by a glaring gangster (Russell Crowe) and his bowler-hatted henchmen.
This is all fairly intriguing. But then, maybe 10 minutes into the movie, Peter is rescued from those henchmen by a blindingly white flying horse. [Exit, pursued by Crowe.]
And then that horse guides Peter to the home of the world's most ebullient young woman afflicted with late-stage consumption (Jessica Brown Findlay).
They meet cute (Peter's trying to rob her, she offers him some tea). And the movie starts sprinting down an increasingly corny, ridiculous road -- as everyone starts yammering about "destiny" and "miracles" and "light" and the forces of bowler-hatted evil being literal demons trying to "tip the scales" by robbing people of hope, or something.
There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to mashup "Somewhere in Time" and "Harry Potter," I suppose. And cinematographer Caleb Deschanel certainly makes it all look very pretty. But fantasy universes usually work best when they function according to a coherent set of ground rules. As adapted by Goldsman, "Winter's Tale" keeps piling on exposition that adds rule after rule after rule: Demons have to keep miracles from happening, specific miracles are assigned to specific people, demons have to get permission to travel, the stars in the sky are either departed souls or angel wings, stolen jewels can be used as holographic projectors, J.J. Abrams-style lens-flares have cosmic significance, the horse is actually a dog, and so on. It's all over-explained by actors who are frankly capable of better, though Crowe at least seems to be having fun (and anyone who can deliver the line "There'll be no miracles tonight, and her destiny is gettin' skewered!" with a straight face and an Irish brogue deserves something approaching respect).
Even worse, none of it seems to add up to anything significant. The process of Farrell figuring out his divine purpose finally gets so convoluted and schmaltzy, it feels less like "destiny" and more like "cruel cosmic joke," which is at odds with the romantic spiritual vibe Goldsman clearly hoped to achieve.
P.S. I highly recommend Drew McWeeny's lengthy decimation of the ridiculous theological underpinnings of "Winter's Tale" (a film he declares "the 'Batman and Robin' of magical realism") followed by his survey of cinematic "dream projects" gone horribly wrong.
(118 min., PG-13 for violence and some sensuality) Grade: C-minus
'Winter's Tale' (The Oregonian, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014)