I’ve been reviewing movies on the internet, in various capacities, for nearly 4 years. In that time I’ve occasionally found movies that are, for one reason or another, difficult to review. Perhaps I didn’t have much to say, or didn’t want to spoil the plot. Perhaps I liked it for odd reasons and knew others might not appreciate it for the same reasons. Perhaps the movie was so infuriating that I just didn’t feel like talking about. But Winter’s Tale poses something of a unique barrier in that it might be completely impossible to review, because in order to review it in my usual manner I have to figure out what it was setting out to accomplish and what it’s trying to be. And Winter’s Tale is such an unholy, unhinged, unbelievable mess of a movie that I’m not certain I can ascertain those things. But I am obligated to try.
The plot (based on some book that I’ve never read, but famously considered unfilmable even by its fans) is devoted to Peter Lakes (Collin Farrel, who is the child of Russian immigrants, raised by a Native American in Brooklyn but still winds up with a thick Irish accent). Peter is a thief who recently stopped working for the boss thief of New York City, Soames (Russel Crowe), due to their disagreement over how much collateral damage thieves should cause; for Soames murdering is the entire point of thieving (which makes you wonder why he doesn’t just quit thieving and devote his efforts to murder, but trying to find logic in this movie will drive me insane).
Anyway, while being chased by Soames and his gang of thieves, who all wear black bowler hats which make them look like the evil gang from Newsies, Peter finds a white horse who helps him escape due to the fact that the horse has wings (not even joking). On his way out of town to wait things out, the horse convinces him to rob a supposedly empty house, where he finds Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) a rich woman dying of a bizarre form of Movie Illness that requires her to stay cold at all times.
I’m gonna stop describing the plot now, partially because this description has passed 200 words and partially because it was around this point in the movie that I became completely confused about what the hell was supposed to be going on. Something about a war between demons (which Soames is) and angels about preventing or causing miracles, but honestly I stopped trying to figure it out around the time Will Smith had a cameo as Satan (not even joking). And that’s not even touching the part where the movie, without explanation, skips forward 100 years.
The biggest and most glaring issue with this movie is the plot. As you may have gathered, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The Pegasus is supposedly some kind of destined spirit animal, as told by Peter’s adopted Native father (played by a bored looking Graham Greene, who is actually a pretty good actor in the right part and deserves better than this) but that doesn’t get any build up or explanation, it just shows up whenever the plot needs it to be there. The reason Soames originally goes to see the Fresh Prince of Hell-Air is that he needs permission to leave the city, but they don’t explain why he needs that. Hell, at one point Soames randomly murders a guy, draws a picture of what he thinks is Beverly in the guy’s blood and then orders his henchmen out to go find her, but the movie never explains why he decided to do that.
This isn’t helped by the plot being…well ludicrous. Basing an entire plot around whether or not a person can perform their personal ‘miracle’ is dumb in a way rarely seen outside of a Care Bears movie and the movie can’t find a way to make it work. At one point Russel Crowe and Will Smith have a conversation about how a character was so loved that they literally couldn’t die, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. Also damaging is a visual style and design that is way too close to reality for this to be reasonably sold as taking place in a fantasy world. It’s not that magical realism in a real world setting can’t work, even in modern day; City of Angels was like that and it was all right, in a late 90s sort of way. But City of Angels, like the (much better) German film it was based on, was much more focused on a much smaller story and didn’t feel it needed much in the way of mechanics. Oh and City of Angels made sense.
This is the other main issue: I don’t buy any of it. The movie might have worked, had it focused on the romance between Peter and Beverly, maybe not my cup of tea but it might have functioned. But the romance doesn’t get any time to feel real. Peter and Beverly meet once, have a cup of tea and from that they have formed such a lasting and perfect bond that Peter spends the entire rest of the movie going to increasingly extreme lengths to be with and protect her. That’s a hard thing to sell for even a great writer, and Winter’s Tale is saddled with Akiva Goldsman, who is still probably best known for Batman and Robin, and who can’t write to save his life. It also marks Goldsman’s first time in the director’s chair and while he’s not as completely terrible as he could be, he just doesn’t have any style of his own. Oh and Akiva? Visualizing the magic via holographic lens flares was a terrrrrrrrrrrrible choice.
Outside of that, the actors look nice but are let down by the script. Colin Farrel is a good actor (if you haven’t seen In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths, fix that) but he’s a character actor, not a leading man and he looks lost here. It doesn’t help that he was apparently given the inexplicable direction to make his accent even thicker, despite the fact that there’s no logical reason for him to have an Irish Accent. Russel Crowe is having fun as the hammy villain, but his character is one without a head or a tale so it all gets lost.
All jokes aside, Will Smith as Lucifer is an interesting casting choice, and the movie seems like it’s doing interesting things with him; wearing an obviously out of place t-shirt underneath his period dress and having him talk in modern slang, which seems to indicate Satan is a character unstuck in time. All right so it’s a bit The Sandman did with Death, but it’s still an interesting concept. But then the direction lets him down, having his shadow become recognizably demonic and giving him demon teeth when he’s angry, which hacks the subtly down to nothing. Findlay is working her ass off to sell the angelic sick girl, but she lacks any character outside of her illness and her love for Farrel’s character.
Winter’s Tale is, as a movie, many things: Bizarre, incoherent, melodramatic, terrible, but the adjective that stands out to me is fascinating. In a lot of ways it’s incredible to get to watch a movie that is so completely broken in so many important ways. So, on those terms, I can recommend it. If the names Tommy Wiseau, Nomi Malone or Grandpa Seth mean something to you, then I can recommend Winter’s Tale, because it is fascinating for its sheer badness. But if your requirements for a movie include that it be good, then stay far away from this movie.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he forgot to mention that this movie has the worst Movie Children he’s seen in years.
– I dunno
– I like Colin Farrel, I guess.
– Ludicrous, incomprehensible story
– Weak screenplay
– Occasionally silly direction