Maybe I’m just a heartless cynic, a contemptible miser here to rain on a cinematic Valentine’s Day parade, but Akiva Goldsmith’s time-bending, amber-lit romance “Winter’s Tale” struck me as perplexing and empty-headed at best and downright unbearable at worst.
The directorial debut of the longtime screenwriter is adapted from a popular 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, but it plays like some sort of weird, trippy hallucination, filled with cloying platitudes about the “wonder in the stars” and a plot that defies comprehension in the name of magical realism.
Here’s that plot, as best it can be deciphered: Colin Farrell plays a roustabout named Peter Lake with a scruffy Irish accent who washed up on the shores of Manhattan as a baby after his parents were sent back to the old country. He’s a thief but he’d love to go straight and he really likes fixing things.
A demonic (and I mean that literally; he really is a demon) former boss (Russell Crowe) chases Peter down, though he flees astride a flying white horse. Said horse, his spirit animal as a Native American (Graham Greene) helpfully explains, takes him to the home of beautiful, dying Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), and just like that, it’s love at first sight.
Peter is a charming roughneck; Beverly is an ethereal, innocent beauty. They make goo-goo eyes at each other while yammering about the sort of big ideas that people only talk about in the movies. They might have retitled the film “The Big Sappy.”
This isn’t a remotely convincing pairing and the cornball dialogue can make you physically ill, but that’s the least of the problems. Not when Crowe mumbles in an indecipherable brogue through his every last scene, head-butting people and being granted visions by massaging magical jewels; not when his demon meets with Will Smith’s Lucipher in some sort of modernist layer hidden in a lower Manhattan tunnel. Not when Goldsmith doesn’t so much as bother to explain exactly what has made the villain so villainous.
Certainly not when the movie suddenly spans a century and introduces Jennifer Connelly as the least believable food writer in the history of food writers and another cloying, moronic subplot aimed straight for the tear ducts.
Is there anything positive to write? Hmm. Well, I guess there’s this: almost every scene in “Winter’s Tale” has some form of a “what-were-they-thinking” moment. It’s a bad, bad movie, but at least it’s bad in a way that only a movie with some ambitions could be, keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering about the next batch of insanity.