Plot holes, violence and a confusing storyline make for a chilly romance
If this title has you wondering if Winter’s Tale is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic play, let me assure you that all the scripts share is their name. This film is actually based on a novel by Mark Helprin, which has been turned into a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman. Although the book met with many accolades when it was published in 1983, I suspect the movie will not be so fortunate.
In the film, an orphan named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is on the run from Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and his mob of minions. Adopted by the gang’s leader as a boy, it appears somewhere over the years Peter outgrew his associates’ murderous intentions. That’s not to say the young man’s higher ethics make him a saint. The truth is, he is still a thief—it’s just that now he uses stealth so he can rob without physically ruffling the victim. Meanwhile Pearly’s jilted anger has him placing a bounty on Peter’s head.
While getting out of town (and harm’s way), the fugitive stops to pull off one more job. Unfortunately the opulent home Peter breaks into isn’t as empty as he’d hoped and he bumps into the owner’s beautiful, but dying daughter. Surprisingly Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) isn’t afraid of him or his gun. Instead she disarms the crook with an invitation to tea. As they exchange chitchat over the steaming brew, Beverly shares her longing for romantic love, and Peter silently swears to steal her heart. Their mutual desire eventually climaxes in a bedroom scene of bare shoulders, naked embraces and breathless sighs.
As the common thread, it is inevitable Peter’s two worlds will intertwine. The only surprise is the stark contrast between the dark violence and light love story. I was expecting a chick flick, not depictions of beatings and weapon fights, death threats and torture. Pearly and his hit men shoot a character (on screen) and poison another. They rip the face off an innocent bystander (not shown) then use his blood as paint. The only relief from this brutality, which also includes ghoulish transformations, comes when Pearly makes an appointment with his boss Lucifer. Will Smith’s portrayal of this figure is strangely comedic—and I’m not sure whether or not that was intentional.
Just when you think that’s enough of a paradox, the whole plot turns on itself and introduces a new storyline set in the present day (2014). If this twist was supposed to tie up some of the loose ends from the 1914 section, it only succeeds in making the entire production into a tangled mess.
And there is another problem. From beginning to end, Winter’s Tale comes across as some sort of religious experience. There are mentions of magic, guardian angels and a mystical horse. There are allegorical references to light. There are depictions of the Devil and his angels. There is a war going on between good and evil. Yet there is never a mention of God (except as an expletive) or heaven. Nor does the presence of a narrator help in clarification. Her intermittent babblings about the greater meaning of life and the universe offer inconsistent and contradictory observations. And though the rhetoric is loaded with sentimentality, it provides nothing insightful or profound.
With an emphasis on the importance of sexual fulfillment, and the notion that overcoming evil is a matter of who has the strongest fists, there is little here to satisfy either those looking for romance or for action. And most disappointed of all will be those who come seeking some deeper meaning from this big screen adaptation.