Haven't seen “Winter's Tale” yet? After reading the review of it that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, you might not want to. Then again, it wouldn't hurt my feelings in the slightest if you went right out and lived every one of its 118-minute running time. Anyway, my opinion is as follows:
While explaining how he pared Mark Helprin’s 768-page novel “Winter’s Tale” down to a 120-page screenplay, writer-director Akiva Goldsman gave the usual reason: “The book is a far more complex and profound object than certainly any two-hour movie could be,” he said. “So it was about finding that which was most resonant for me and then extracting a story, both from what was there and from my imagination to make a filmic version of it.”
Here, then, is the problem with your standard Hollywood movie. No matter how rich and varied the original source material is, the filmmaker is forced to search for “resonance” by shoe-horning that material into a standard, one-fits-all format. And it doesn’t always work. Goldsman, who know something about movies – having won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind” – certainly doen’t make it work here.
Goldsman’s film is a mishmash of magical realism, set in New York over the course of a century and more. It begins in 1895 when a young foreign couple with child, attempting to emigrate, is turned away. So they make a fateful, if seemingly insane, decision: As their ship steams away, they place their baby boy in a miniature boat, aim it back at the city, and hope for the best. At this point, we audience members are doing the same, if for different reasons.
That baby grows up to be Colin Farrell with a bad haircut. Or, rather, he is Peter Lake, a professional thief who is on the run from his former boss, the demonic Pearly – a Fagin-type character played by Russell Crowe. We know Pearly’s a demon because his eyes flash when he gets angry. And because he has a bad haircut, too.
Anyway, in the course of making one last score before leaving town, Peter encounters the lovely Beverly Penn – a consumptive lass with a passion for Brahms and an unfortunate tendency to melt ice with her feet. Naturally, Peter falls in love at first sight. And with the help of a magic white horse, who shows up just in time to help Peter escape Pearly’s clutches, he wafts Beverly away to the frozen estate, the Lake of the Coheeries where … well, let’s just say here that Peter’s quest gets derailed and many tears get shed.
Then, unaccountably, we jump ahead a century, to 2014. An amnesiac Peter still lives. But a chance meeting with a New York Times reporter – though in stories such as these does anything ever really happen by chance? – helps Peter remember, and figure out how to fulfill his destiny. Which involves a still-living Pearly. And, of course, Lucifer.
Now, I’m acquainted with the concept of suspension of disbelief. Consider “Alice in Wonderland.” Consider “Peter Pan.” Consider the Kardashians. This suspension is what allows us to soften our often harsh real-life experiences with the gauze of fantasy. And the best artists use fantasy to make sense of an often inscrutable world.
So let me be blunt: Nothing about the movie “Winter’s Tale” makes sense. Not the setting. Not the characters. Not the obvious biblical references. And certainly not Colin Farrell’s haircut.
Mark Helprin’s novel may not make sense either. Chances are, though, that its magic resonates far better than Goldsman’s movie.