Winter's Tale

February, 2014, Drama

Akiva Goldsman’s dazzling track record as a screenwriter of highly successful commercial movies includes a pair of Batman films, all three of the Da Vinci Code movies, the academy award winning A Beautiful Mind - - even a pair of science fiction blockbusters starring Will Smith (I Robot, I AmLegend); more than 15 such productions have made him eminently “bankable”. Yet his passion to convert novelist Mark Helprin’s romantic fantasy about the redemptive power of love required a dual effort from Goldsman; in addition to writing the script, he’s also made his feature film debut as director. The result? A romantic fantasy composed of the same si-fi, quasi-religious, ethereal subject matter to be found in his earlier scripts.

 Collin Farrell plays Peter Lake, a likeable Irish second-story man who meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) while attempting to burgle her father’s safe in pre WWI New York City. Instantly smitten, by this lovely young heiress, Lake’s amorous designs are thwarted by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) leader of a (literally) devilish gang of thugs under the control of Lucifer, (who, though not credited in the cast, bears an uncanny resemblance to Will Smith.) Lake was Soames’ protégé and like a thwarted lover, the brutish crime boss wants to deny Lake the opportunity to grasp the salvific benefits of true love.

 A magic horse, a pair of terminal diseases, the odd cold-blooded execution and a time lapse of miraculous length find Lake ultimately doing battle with his adversary from the early days of the 20th century to the present day, culminating in the miraculous recovery of a terminal young girl oddly connected to Ms. Penn. Thus does Lake earn his well-deserved redemption as he mounts his stallion and flies off into celestial bliss…

 This patently silly storyline to the contrary notwithstanding, Goldsman provides a lushly romantic fable about the redemptive power of honest affection and the inter-connectedness of humanity. What it lacks in theological cohesion, it more than makes up for in the sweetness of its lovers and the chilling perversity of it devilish protagonists. Timed to arrive in theaters over Valentine’s Day weekend, this is a film - - with more on its mind that it can deliver - - offers crisp action, often clever dialogue and great scenes of The Big Apple, making it a diverting if often saccharin paean to the imponderables of mankind and our role in the cosmos.

 Although her role is relatively brief, Ms. Findlay (the charming and sadly deceased daughter in Downton Abbey) glows with romantic allure as Beverly while Farrell, with brogue and facial mannerisms firmly in check, provides his hapless suitor with just the right amount of bad-boy charm to accompany Lake’s nobler aspirations. Yet the 38 year-old Dubliner, with nearly 4 dozen roles to his credit, has yet to achieve the promise he showed in Tigerland nearly a decade and a half ago. He’s bounced from mainline Hollywood movies (Phone Booth, S.W.A.T., Miami Vice, Alexander the Great, In Bruges) to art-house projects (Cassandra’s Dream, Ask the Dust, Ondine) without achieving the audience recognition most actors enjoy at this point in their careers. This project isn’t likely to add much to his bankability.

The Verdict? An often visually appealing love story cum fantasy  enlivened with intriguing performances in the service a muddled cosmology.

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus