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With: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Will Smith, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Durand, Graham Greene, Eva Marie Saint
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Mark Helprin
Directed by: Akiva Goldsman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 118
Date: 02/14/2014

Winter's Tale (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dead of 'Winter'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The wildly successful, Oscar-winning screenwriter-turned-producer Akiva Goldsman has made a career out of overexplained, half-witted movies ranging from Batman & Robin to Angels & Demons. So his becoming a director, and taking Mark Helprin's beloved 1983 novel Winter's Tale with him, was not a promising idea. Oddly, the result is more "just OK" than it is howlingly terrible. It's as if Goldsman learned everything about directing from Ron Howard, with whom he worked four times.

Winter's Tale merely chugs along, without ever being extraordinary, or exhibiting any personality or artistry. It also can't find any kind of cohesion or center. Despite a distracting, floppy hairstyle, Colin Farrell's presence at least adds some meat to the movie. He plays Peter Lake, an orphaned thief in 1916 New York who falls in love with the consumptive Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).

According to the voiceover narration, and some other explanatory dialogue, everything and everyone is connected by light; the movie uses some lovely visual effects to illustrate this, which is good because the actors fail to do the same. Also, everyone is born with a miracle inside them that's meant for one person. Peter believes it's his destiny to save Beverly -- with the help of a white, flying horse.

One hundred years later, Peter is somehow still alive and finds that he has a different destiny when he meets newspaper food columnist Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly). Her editor-in-chief, a face from Peter's past played as an old woman by Eva Marie Saint (of On the Waterfront and North by Northwest), also provides some information, although it's difficult to imagine a newspaper editor being 104 years old.

All the while, a daemon in human form, Pearly Soames (a vicious, nasty Russell Crowe), spends every waking moment trying to stop Peter, dispatching interchangeable minions to do his cruel bidding.

Some of the dialogue that may have sounded poetic on the printed page sounds awkward spoken aloud, and it's doubtful that lines like "s--- happens" actually came from the novel. (Despite the title, we're not talking Shakespeare here.) Not to mention that, given the novel's nearly 700 pages, some cuts were likely made that undoubtedly compromised the original concept.

Unfortunately, though Winter's Tale is supposed to employ magical realism, it flips indecisively back and forth between magic and realism, without ever finding a tone for both at the same time. Nevertheless, Goldsman's overall approach allows the movie to get away with some ridiculously goopy moments, though many, many other moments are simply ridiculous.

Warner Home Video released this critical and commercial failure on a two-disc set with a Blu-ray and DVD. Quality is fine, as we have come to expect from WHV. Extras are fairly scant, with just two featurettes, and some extended/deleted scenes. It would have been interesting to hear an Akiva Goldsman commentary track, but maybe everyone involved just wanted to forget about this as soon as possible.

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