All things considered, Winter’s Tale is the most beautifully made nonsense I’ve seen in quite a while. I blame the fact that I didn’t utterly hate it on being traumatized by Vampire Academy last week, which basically made any movie I’ll see in the nearest 6 months acceptable and even decent.
Adaptations are hard as is, seeing as how the book will always be better than the film (exceptions – Sex and Sunsets by Tim Sandlin adapted to The Right Kind Of Wrong in 2013, which wasn’t that particularly good as a written story, and an infamous Practical Magic, which was awfully written), and cramming an 800-page novel into a 2-hour film after cutting random chunks of the story and rearranging what was left in no particular order couldn’t be called a good idea.
Winter’s Tale is a story of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), transcended through time. We first meet him in the 1880’s as a newborn baby whose parents leave him in New York because they’re being deported back to their home country and apparently it’s not a safe place to take a baby to. Fast-forward to the beginning of the 20th century when Peter, a skillful thief, is in conflict with his boss/mentor/father figure Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) who wants to kill him. On the run from Pearly, Peter finds a magical horse (I can’t believe I’m typing it), that helps him escape the crowd of Pearly’s sidekicks. Being a smart guy, Peter decides to get out of New York. But – why not rob the last house before taking off? The house, however, is not empty. Its only occupant at the moment is a young, terminally ill Englishwoman Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). Peter and Beverly have a nice chat over a cup of tea – because nothing is more romantic than having someone break into your house, apparently – and instantly fall in love with each other.
Later that day, Pearly – who we soon learn is not just a gangster of some sort but a demon – has a vision of a red-head girl who would help him find Peter. Did I mention Beverly is a red-head? Guess it goes without saying. Anyway, Pearly tells his army of low-rank demons to find her, and voila! New York is not that big after all!
Being a true knight in shining armor, white horse and all that, Peter arrives just in time to save Bev from being brutally butchered right in the centre of Manhattan in broad daylight (which makes me really worried about their justice system back then). They gallop through Central Park, fly (yes!) off the cliff and proceed to Beverly’s family country house on the other side of the frozen lake, safe now because demons can’t leave the city – because Lucifer (Will Smith) told them so.
At the Penn estate, Peter meets Beverly’s kid sister Willa and has a heart-to-heart with her dad, telling the latter the truth about himself and his intentions regarding his daughter, which are nonexistent. A few days later, Peter takes Beverly to the dance where one of the sidekick demons, who is now human, kind of, spikes Bev’s drink with something that was meant to worsen her condition in a natural way. Later that night Peter comes to Beverly’s chambers, they make sweet, sweet love, and she dies. Sex can kill after all!
Fast-forward to the early 21st century. Amnesiac and immortal (??), Peter Lake wanders the streets of New York, occasionally drawing portraits of a red-head girl from Pearly’s vision with a chalk on the sidewalks and in the parks until one day he runs into a cancer-stricken girl named Abby and her mother Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connely). It triggers Peter’s memories and eventually he remembers who he was a hundred years ago, what with Verginia’s help and some microfilm slides at the newspaper still belonging to the Penn family and ran by Bev’s little sister Willa, in her 90’s now, which leads us to a slightly cheesy but still heartwarming reunion.
Out of sheer politeness or because of his charming smile, Virginia invites Peter for dinner, which he declines but then changes his mind a couple of hours later because he probably hadn’t had a homemade meal in about one hundred years or so. The idyllic “chicken and ice-cream” time is interrupted by one of Abby’s seizures, which makes her fall asleep in the exact same pose as the girl in Pater’s visions, which makes him realize Abby is the reason he’s still alive. A bit of a jump if you ask me, but hey, the story goes on!
Of course Pearly chooses this exact moment to track Peter down and show up at Virginia’s apartment, making the three of them flee. Thank God there’s a magical horse waiting for them on the roof! They are, however, screwed on a whole new level now because Pearly finally managed to make a deal with Lucifer and is now able to leave New York and follow Peter and Co. to Beverly’s family mansion, long abandoned and falling apart. They have a grand showdown with the cars falling through cracked ice and all the demons dying (someone should tell Sam and Dean that drowning is the way to deal with the dark forces, it’s that simple) and Peter stabbing Pearly in the neck with the name plate from the toy boat he was left on when his parents were deported to wherever they came from a century and a half ago.
Forgetting about Pearly, Peter and Virginia carry little Abby (who is dead by then) to the greenhouse, which Peter believes being a magical place to bring her back to life. It didn’t work with Beverly all those years ago, but why not try again? And, oh miracle, it works!
Back in New York, Peter says his goodbye to Virginia and Abby, jumps on his magical horse and flies away to the stars to reunite with his long lost love.
It honestly didn’t seem that absurd when I was watching it.
Visually, Winter’s Tale was incredibly beautiful. A bit on a cheesy side, but for something like that it was indeed well-made, capturing the atmosphere of different eras and the scenic New York and its change and development through time.
Much to my satisfaction, it wasn’t boring. The story moved fast and although the film was almost 2 hours long, it didn’t drag.
And of course kudos to the cast for doing the best with what they were given.
The film barely made any sense. Compressing an almost LOTR-thick book into one movie while leaving chunks of story out was a disaster. All things considered, Winter’s Tale the film had almost nothing to do with Winter’s Tale the book, in the worst possible sense. It felt caricaturish, almost like a parody, the Scary Movie style, only we were supposed to take it seriously.
With all the obviously vital info left out, the conflict between Peter and Pearly wasn’t explained in any way, which made the whole cat-and-mouse chase feel absurd. And what’s the deal with the demons not being able to leave the city?
Now, I may not necessarily be an expert but mixing and matching random pars of the book is not how adaptations work, exactly. There actually is a difference between “based on”, “loosely based on”, “inspired by”, and “the book was in the room when I came up with the idea”.
It might have worked as a parody, perhaps. But aiming for a high-concept and high-quality fantasy killed Winter’s Tale before it was even released. Being Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut, Winter’s Tale probably killed this side of his career for good as well, and I can only hope that it won’t damage the careers of everyone else involved. I can only assume that the presence of Jennifer Connely and Russell Crowe in this particular film can be explained by their earlier collaboration with Goldsman on his Academy Award winner of a project A Beautiful Mind. Why would the rest of the cast agree to be a part of Winter’s Tale is a mystery. Then again, maybe they haven’t read the script prior to signing their contracts.
It’s highly recommended to not have any expectations if you choose to check this film. With its release scheduled for the Valentine’s Day, it made just as much sense as this joke of a holiday.