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Movie Review of the Week: Winter’s Tale

Movie Review of the Week: Winter’s Tale
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I imagine that the Mark Helprin novel, on which this fantasy movie is based, is intensely beautiful and mystically romantic. But it’s a little tricky adapting magic realism to the big screen so I would like to assume that Akiva Goldsman, who also directs, has done the best possible job. After all, if the Oscar winning writer of “A Beautiful Mind” (and “Cinderella Man”) can’t do a good job, then I doubt anyone else could.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the film isn’t exactly a roaring success. The wild stretches of imagination needed to surmount the unlikelihood of a hero riding a white winged horse across time are extensive. But if you can surrender yourself to the suspension of disbelief, the characters and setting are nicely handled by Goldsman and his actors.

With a prologue that starts with Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) digging through an old chest in the attic above the starry sky of Grand Central station in 2014, we are then transported back to his infancy and childhood, when he grew up an orphan on the streets of Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. In 1916, Peter is a 21 year old thief, who owes a debt to the Fagin-like Pearly Soames (an Irish-brogued heavy played with gusto by Russell Crowe). Soames is coming after Peter, who fatefully comes into possession of the above mentioned Pegasus, which gets him out of a fair few scrapes. A portentous female voice-over, about destiny, and stars and angels reveals that we are in a make-believe world despite the New York setting.

Peter breaks into the home of a wealthy newspaper man Isaac Penn (William Hurt) and falls hook, line and sinker for his beautiful, red-headed daughter Beverly who is dying of consumption. As played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey”), Beverly is like Kate Winslet in “Titanic”….all tragic, upper-class beauty who can’t help but love a boy beneath her station. Confusingly, Beverly often claims to be burning up with the fever, but Brown Findlay is the very picture of rosy, vital health. I could buy the flying horse, but this puzzled me.

Peter promises to save her life, but after rescuing her from the evil Soames and making love to her in a golden hued montage of tasteful PG-13 rated body shots, she succumbs to TB. Her death is not like Camille’s with discreet coughing and bloody handkerchiefs. Instead it’s as if her orgasm (the French do call it “la petite mort”) whisks her away to eternal satisfied slumber.

At this point I should mention that Soames is more than just a street thug. He’s a servant of the Dark Lord himself, by which I mean Lucifer (Will Smith no less). If all this sounds silly, I suppose it is, but it works because Goldsman grounds the absurd notions in familiar realities. Soames is like a character out of “Boardwalk Empire”.  If Satan were among us, his servants wouldn’t look like horned devils now would they?

The pace however isn’t as exciting as the plot summary sounds and the lovey-dovey stuff between Peter and Beverly is a bit treacly. By the time Peter reaches 2014 and runs into Jennifer Connolly and her adorable, sick, red-headed moppet, the modern-day myth seems to have jumped the shark, right around when Peter jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge.

It would be easy to make fun of “Winter’s Tale” for its lofty narration, the hackneyed battle between good and evil and the time-travelling lover at its center. Despite being a strange hybrid of genres and tones, Goldsman at least is attempting something new. A poetic, supernatural fairy-tale that isn’t aimed at teenagers? That deserves a medal these days.

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