Welcome to Valentine’s Day y’all! First up, a heart-tugger that may not be the most coherent story in the world, but is definitely cranked up to 11 in the luuuuuurve department. Guys who are
being dragged to see this considering this for today, y’all have been warned.
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The book on which this film is based is 748 pages long. So having a film that’s over two hours isn’t that bad a thing when you’re dealing with that much source material. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Winter’s Tale is a fascinating fairy tale love story (heavy emphasis on the fairy tale), with a healthy dose of Good vs. Evil thrown in. But in it’s attempt to cover that much ground, Winter’s Tale gets viewers both bogged down in minutiae and whisked ahead at a pace so breakneck that it’s difficult to keep up with what the film is trying to convey.
And there’s a lot to convey in Winter’s Tale. That it’s a love story between streetwise thief Peter (Colin Farrell) and dying Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil) is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s the neverending battle between Good and Evil (or is that Order and Chaos?), miracles, time travel, adorable kids, and a horse that is much more than just a horse. Got all that? Well, that’s probably because you’ve read the book. I hadn’t, and decided to go in with a blank slate. And I can tell you that if you’re wondering if this story will make sense to folks who haven’t read the book…well, it doesn’t. If you’re wondering if that matters? Well, it doesn’t. At least not if you’re looking for nothing more than a sweet tale in a beautiful setting. Folks searching for cohesion or an easy-to-follow narrative are best left to search elsewhere.
Akiva Goldsman manages to take this unwieldy, doorstop of a novel and trim it down to it’s basics. I mean really, really trim it down. For the first 45 minutes or so I had no idea what was going on beyond the fact that Crowe’s Pearly was more evil than your basic gangster, Peter and Beverly had found Twu Wuv, and Will Smith is the devil. (Seriously.) There’s a lot of expository blah-blah in the dialogue, which can drag things down a bit. But otherwise there’s no way to get to know the characters beyond their basic cutouts. I was left hoping for more during the scenes that blew by, and waiting for the action to continue during the scenes that dragged. Call it movie vertigo.
Maybe because there’s a lot of jumping from one plot point to the next, but as with his work on A Beautiful Mind and 2007’s I Am Legend, Goldsman does manage to slip in moments of beauty in-between the slapdash. Scenes like the one where Peter and Beverly’s father (played by John Hurt) discuss love and death. Or when Peter and Beverly’s talk in the conservatory. Then there’s the back-and-forth between Pearly and Smith’s “Judge”, that ends in both revealing bits of their true nature. I guess casting actors you’ve worked with in other films can give the finished product a lived-in luster, as if they’re all secretly connected. In this story about the connections in life, the universe and everything, that’s a necessary thing. These palpable connections keep the film from devolving into a melted puddle of incomprehensible by simply being enjoyable.
Ardent fans of the novel may be shocked by what’s not in the film. An important character makes absolutely no appearance. His role is outside of the love story between Peter and Beverly, and so won’t be found here. Characters are tweaked (Willa, Beverly’s sister, takes over from the novel’s Jessica). The beautiful horse Athansor is more a Deux ex Machina than a character. Or maybe I’ve just read too many summaries and don’t grasp the overall themes from a book I’ve never read. Still, fans be forewarned; Here There Be Differences.
So file this one under “Films Best Seen With A Group Of Girlfriends When Only A Fairy Tale Will Do”. And fellas, lest you feel left out, by all means check out Winter’s Tale if you’ve a mind to do so. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you if you get bogged down by all the glorious heartstring-pulling. Because even with a film that’s disjointed and bewildering, there’s plenty of good ol’ fashioned sentiment that hits the mark. You may want to bring a tissue. Y’know, for the person sitting next to you.