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Winter's Tale' not worth telling

February 18, 2014
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Winter's Tale Winter's Tale

Magical romance a convoluted mess

Sometimes, you walk out of a movie theater overwhelmed. Maybe you find yourself teeming with emotional energy. Maybe you find yourself deconstructing technical achievement or powerful performance. Maybe you find yourself grasping at big, new ideas. Or maybe just maybe you find yourself asking 'Just what in the holy hell was that all about?'

If you're looking for the latter, then 'Winter's Tale' is for you.

Based on the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, 'Winter's Tale,' the film follows a man named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, 'Saving Mr. Banks') through a weirdly mythic New York City in the early 1900s. Lake has run afoul of his former employer, a gangster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, 'Man of Steel') who just happens to also be a demon responsible for the sullying of the souls of Manhattan and the five boroughs.

Due to prodding from his magic horse companion, Lake a gifted thief attempts to rob the home of a rich publishing family. However, the family's eldest daughter Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, TV's 'Downton Abbey') is still there and catches him in the act. She has consumption which by the way works considerably differently in this world than in ours but no matter; the dying girl and orphaned thief fall in love for no discernible reason. Some claptrap about everyone has one miracle or something.

It all goes awry of course. Peter winds up getting headbutted off the Brooklyn Bridge by Soames after Peter's magic horse flies away. He then comes out of the river and holy crap! it's 2014. Peter's memory is gone, but he slowly regains it with a little help from reporter Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly, 'Stuck in Love') and her sick daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo in her feature debut).

But good old Pearly is still around too, what with him being a demon and all. And Pearly finally manages to get permission from his boss (Will Smith, 'After Earth') they call him 'The Judge' but we all know he's the Devil to leave his sphere of influence to go murder Peter as he tries to find a way to save young Abby.

I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, I have no doubt that Helprin's novel is a beautifully rendered piece of magical realism or whatever, but my guess is that a whole lot of detail got axed from the screenplay, because very little about this movie made the least bit of sense. The plot veers wildly from needlessly convoluted to hopelessly threadbare without warning; there's no rhyme or reason to anything that happens. We've got a rich mythic world here but we have no concept of how it works; I don't need to have everything spoon-fed to me, but some sort of hat-tip to the rules wouldn't have been out of place.

Colin Farrell is nice enough, but you get the sense that not even he really understands what the movie is about. Findlay and Connelly are both fine actresses, but you'd never know it from this trainwreck. Poor Findlay's entire character is built around having some sort of turbocharged tuberculosis whose symptoms are both inconstant and inconsistent. Connelly doesn't even get that; her character synopsis is basically 'Reporter. Mom. Has sick kid.' She's a plot device. Meanwhile, Russell Crowe is all doughy bombast; his main purpose here might be to provide Colin Farrell a glimpse at a possible (and undesirable) future.

We're not even going to discuss the Fresh Prince of Darkness.

'Winter's Tale' has its meager bright spots; it's actually got quite an impressive look, for instance. The atmosphere is engaging. But the plot is cluttered and choppy, filled with characters that we simply can't be bothered to care that much about doing things that don't make a whole lot of sense. In the end, this is a tale not worth telling.

(Note: It should be mentioned that if, at any point, a scene had ended with a character being chased off-screen by a bear, all would have been forgiven.)

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