Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 25, 2014)
If a studio wants an ideal time to release a romantic film, wouldn’t Valentine’s Day weekend sound right? In theory, yes, but this doesn’t always occur in practice.
Case in point: 2014’s Winter’s Tale. Based on a successful 1983 novel, the film hit screens on February 14 but wound up mired in seventh place opening weekend. Fellow romantic flicks About Last Night and Endless Love charted above Winter’s, though the decidedly non-chick flick Lego Movie won the weekend.
Although I’m not a big fan of romances, Winter’s came with some fantasy elements that made it intriguing to me, so the Blu-ray landed in my player. Winter’s focuses on New York City circa 1916, where we meet a thief named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell). Gang boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) wants him dead, but Peter mounts a horse and escapes, apparently via magic.
From there we get to know Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a lovely young woman afflicted with a fatal disease. Despite her sad prognosis, she continues to remain positive, and she quickly falls in love with Peter after he tries to rob her family home.
Given her illness, this doesn’t last, of course, but magical forces won’t let love die. We follow events through to modern day that show the extent to which fate bonds Peter and Beverly.
When I saw previews for Winter’s, I figured it came with too many spoilers. The ads showed us much of the Peter/Beverly relationship from 1916 and also hinted at the magical aspects of the story.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can say that the preview doesn’t really hurt the story. Granted, I think it might’ve been a bit more effective if we didn’t know that Peter would appear in present day as well as in 1916, but the trailers handled this in a general enough manner that the information doesn’t truly “spoil” the film for us.
No, Winter’s spoils itself for us, as it comes with so many problems that too much info in a trailer becomes the least of its worries. The biggest issues affect the story itself, as it bogs itself down in unnecessary elements. I think the tale could’ve worked better without Pearly and connected situations at all. Without divulging potential spoilers myself, we quickly learn that Pearly exists as more than a standard mobster and he represents part of the eternal struggle of good versus evil.
To which I think: so? Perhaps that side of things works better in the source novel where the characters and situations get some room to breathe, but in a 118-minute movie, these domains feel gratuitous. The movie would likely lose nothing if it concentrated on its magical moments and romance without the external threat of Pearly and company.
Instead, I suspect a more streamlined Winter’s would fare better, as I think Pearly’s presence lacks much bite. We already know that the Peter/Beverly love affair is doomed – why do we need another “threat”? We don’t. Again, in the context of a long novel, the themes involved with Pearly might have some punch, but here they fail to deliver much meaning or impact.
The film also suffers because of its forced, saccharine attempt at “magic”. It shoves those elements down our throats and wants us to show awe and wonder. We don’t, largely because they all seem so contrived. The movie tries so hard to enchant us that it sabotages itself.
Perhaps that side of things would’ve succeeded if it’d developed more naturally. Unfortunately, Winter’s “goes magical” so quickly that it doesn’t allow the movie to find its bearings first. This may be another issue affected by the condensation required in the novel’s adaptation, as the film lacks the time to move at a slower pace. Whatever the case, it doesn’t work, and the “magical moments” come across as convenient and forced.
On the positive side, Winter’s features an excellent cast, with notable names like Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt and Uncredited Major Star I’ll Leave Unnamed in addition to those I already named. Farrell and Findlay show pretty good chemistry in their scenes together; I don’t buy Farrell as a 21-year-old, but he still combines with Findlay in an effective manner.
Too bad they get submerged in a messy, sickly-sweet tale that bites off much than it can chew. If given more room to breathe, Winter’s may’ve developed into a decent supernatural romance. As depicted here, however, it lacks much to make it involving and effective.