So you want to be a film critic? You can’t pick and choose and you have to watch what is presented to you and you have to watch it all…and once in a while you run across a movie, where the rules are pushed to limits that you can’t even imagine. You have to throw out any sort of rating system, any judgement and any process as a movie just shatters the rulebook and throws the pieces out the window. “Winter’s Tale” is the kind of movie that isn’t necessarily bad in the traditional sense but it is such an unholy mess that it is the cinematic equivalent of a 42 car pileup on the highway…you know what you are seeing is bad, terrible even, but you simply cannot look away…it’s human nature and as a critic it’s part of the job. Now available on Blu-Ray, it’s finally happened…yes ladies and gentlemen, “Winter’s Tale” broke me.
“Winter’s Tale” is set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century. A story of miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil where near the turn of the 20th century a common burglar and thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) happens upon a chance encounter with a dying young girl (Jessica Brown Findlay). They fall hopelessly in love but with the mysterious Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) hot on Peter’s tale, his only options left are to find a way to conquer evil and stop time itself in order to save the woman of his dreams.
Based on the novel of the same name by author Mark Halprin and deemed impossible to film by one of the modern masters of the moving image, Martin Scorsese, this film is one of those movies for the ages.
“Winter’s Tale” is such a non-sensical, derivative mess of a film with gaping leaps in logic even for a film that sells itself as a fantasy with a cast that clearly doesn’t give a damn to the point that it would be easy to dismiss this movie at first glance. But that being said it was all executed so earnestly that you can’t help be in awe of a movie that begins at ridiculous and just keeps upping the ante is at actively throws logic, common sense and even basic storytelling structure out the window.
The first feature length effort from writer/director Akiva Goldsman, this is the first time that I have seen a movie that actively spurns the idea of trying to craft a narrative that makes sense. Events rarely get established as huge jumps in logic take us from event to event in this story. Characters are only established through the use of subpar borderline racist accents, through events that are just flat out impossible even by fantasy movie standards or just not at all. If a story wants to make us believe in something spectacular or impossible, then they at least need to find some way to establish it. In this film nothing, and I mean NOTHING genuinely gets established. It all just…happens.
While the film looks great and even though it wants to sell how miraculous some of these events and actions of its characters are, it all just plays like New York City, filled with regular people. Except for the fact that all this amazing stuff happens and no one at all references it or even make it even feel like something weird is going on. So much of the film felt like our writer/director was just throwing ideas on the wall, left and right just to see what would stick and it plays like a fever induced dream from someone who was already certifiably insane. It’s almost admirable that Goldsman didn’t throw in any sly winks to the camera to acknowledge that was happening was crazy and it is all played by an ensemble cast who either didn’t give a damn, hammed it up to a ridiculous amount or simply owed him a favor.
Colin Farrell is certainly passable as the thief with a heart of gold Peter Lake, but it is clear that he is simply riding the crest of the wave, never exactly buying into the material all that seriously. His chemistry with Jessica Brown Findlay is questionable at best as it feels like a role that Keira Knightley said no to. She was trying with the character as best she could, but he felt like he was more concerned about where he was taking his co-star to dinner after the shoot rather than crafting a genuine love story between the two. All the events that surrounded their story were simply taken as fact and never really questioned by anyone around them which made the entire thing preposterous, and then the preposterous got taken to an entirely new level.
As the all around nasty and demonic Pearly Soames, Russell Crowe was hamming it up so bad with an Irish accent that made me wonder if he was looking for his Lucky Charms. His overall performance is so damn cartoonish that it borders on satirical. The bar for playing something in such an over the top fashion has now been set to heights that just might be impossible to achieve as anyone else would instinctively play the terrible material for laughs, but Crowe no sold it all and it is stunning to watch.
I feel bad for the rest of the supporting players like Jennifer Connelly whose role was just so forced and ridiculous that it strained credibility and barely felt necessary, the likes of William Hurt who just deserves better and the likes of Eva Marie Saint who has to sell the most ABSURD plot point in the entire movie. The only character in the film that truly wasn’t infected with a distain for logic was the city of New York itself, which is just more of a sad cliché then anything as it was the one element of the film that had to play it straight.
It’s ironic that William Hurt was in this as I felt like his character in the film “Altered States”, almost like I was de-evolving while watching it. Everything about this movie was just so off the rails and utterly insane that is kind of amazing that it actually got made in the first place.
Rarely do words like, twaddle, inspired, lunacy and garbage come to mind when describing a movie, but with “Winter’s Tale” they are there along with many, many others. When you don’t necessarily have the chance to choose what to watch, efforts like this one can come across the desk of any film critic across the land, but rarely are they as earnest and flat out gonzo at this.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are solid and the special features include some deleted scenes and a couple of behind the scenes featurettes.
At the end of all this, please don’t ask me if “Winter’s Tale” is a good or bad movie, because quite frankly I’m just not sure what this is.
“Winter’s Tale” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital Download and On Demand from all major providers.