Quentin Tarantino has complained about how one of the biggest problems with American cinema is that it’s afraid of big emotions. Of melodrama that might descend into camp (or perhaps is camp to begin with). And it’s true, more movies are likely to adapt an ironic distance than go for something earnest. There’s a reason for that: when earnest doesn’t work, you get films like The Postman and The Room. But that means some material just isn’t going to translate into American cinema, and that’s why Winter’s Tale is a boring disaster. Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Will Smith star in this story of star-crossed lovers and miracles, and my Winter’s Tale Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Farrell stars as Peter Lake, who came to America on a model boat, and was brought into a life of thievery by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). Peter’s got ethnically diverse friends, and has found a horse that loves him for some reason (spoiler, it’s because the horse is an angel). But when he and Pearly don’t see eye to eye he tries to leave town but runs across Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) when robbing her house. She has consumption, but is magical, and everyone knows it so her father Isaac (William Hurt) allows this thief to court his daughter. But then tragedy strikes as Pearly finds out about the girl. Beverly and Peter’s relationship is a miracle, and Pearly doesn’t want them together because Pearly is a demon who works for Lucifer (Will Smith). The film then moves to modern time, where Peter has no idea why he hasn’t aged in over a century or who he is. It’s there that he meets Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo) and finds out what his real purpose is.
Having not read the book Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, I can’t speak to the film’s fidelity to the novel, but it seems evident that writer/director Akiva Goldsman followed the same plot, but missed the music. With a magical horse, the appearance of Satan, the battle for souls and the presence of miracles in the world, this is a film that should feel poetic, but Goldsman clomps his way through the story, never achieving any sort of on-screen magic. In the hands of another filmmaker, the appearance of the devil would lead to a larger than life performance from the guest star, but this may be the most low-key devil in the history of cinema. And that’s because usually there’s a theatrical absurdity to presenting and playing Lucifer, so going big is almost the only choice (and especially if the character is only on screen for two scenes), it’s going to be a scene stealing role and should probably be a scene stealing performance. Instead, the film blows having an awesome cameo on a nothing part – Smith likely did it as a favor, but the film gains nothing from his presence. That’s telling of the film’s failure.
Watching the film, it felt like the film might work better animated, perhaps Don Bluth could take the same material and make a great movie out of it, as the flights of fancy would work better in cel animation and with musical numbers. It would certainly be better handled by Korean filmmakers or someone like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, people who might embrace the crazier aspects of the story and have fun with them. It’s too bad, because I can see this material working, but when a flying horse elicits no awe, you’re doing it wrong.
The main reason I wanted to check out this film was because it seemed from the early buzz it might be a new camp classic. And I’m fond of its cast, which is chock full of talented people. But the results are to limp to inspire any great passion, other than to acknowledge that almost every single artistic decision was the wrong one. If the film embraced its melodramatic qualities, it might be special. That might make it divisive, but the sort of film that its fans felt passionate about it. It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling passionate about this movie.
Warner Brothers presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, and as a brand new film the Blu-ray transfer is excellent. The set also comes with a DVD and digital copy. Extras are limited, there are two behind the scenes pieces titled “Winter’s Tale: A Timeless Love” (6 min.) and “Characters of Good and Evil” (9 min.), which are both surface looks at the film and its making. There are also twelve extended/deleted scenes (12 min.), two of which suggest that Peter was raised by Native Americans, even though he has an Irish accent.