I had a more difficult time digesting “Winter’s Tale” than I initially anticipated, and perhaps the fact that it will plop (or flop, depending on your opinion) into homes in late June has something to do with it. The whole thing is set during the calendar year’s most chilly months, and if you aren’t in the mood for a room temperature romance splashed against some fantasy backdrop despite frigid conditions, this is surely not your film.
The tagline here is “This is not a true story. It’s a love story.” Indeed, it is. You are going to need to suspend your disbelief in a number of ways during “Winter’s Tale.” It’s fantasy, romance, sex, drama, comedy, youth versus old age and a whole lot more all slammed into just under two hours. And, alas, this is the movie’s problem from top to bottom and start to finish.
Warner Bros. apparently started thinking about “Winter’s Tale” over a decade ago, but the production never got off the ground until 2011 when Akiva Goldsman took the project on, both professionally and personally. Based on the Mark Helprin novel of the same name, this film adaptation epically bombed at the box office. Its initial $75 million budget was slashed during production to $60 million, and its final take was a mere $27 million. If the financials don’t paint the right picture (and, after having watched the film, they do), you can point to any of the glowing inconsistencies that “Winter’s Tale” works hard to perpetuate. More on those momentarily.
The film opens in 1895 with a young immigrant couple giving up their infant son after being refused entry into the United States. Twenty plus years down the road, that boy is introduced as Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a small time thief reared by a demon named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) who passes as a human most days. After he decides he doesn’t want that life anymore and flees, Pearly aggressively chases him down. A white horse helps Peter escape, but also convinces to stop at a house on his way out of town so he can pinch a few items for the road.
Therein, he meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a young woman dying from a rare disease that cannot be stopped. They fall in love, but not before he leaves in haste as Pearly’s men approach. Peter eventually returns to rescue Beverly, and they flee to her family’s compound outside Pearly’s realm, where she explains to him her understanding of miracles and offers him a little insight on some of the mystery he’s been experiencing with his horse (it can fly, among other things). “Winter’s Tale” follows these characters and their mildly entertaining story into the present (literally), which culminates in an underwhelming climax following a somewhat interesting twist that made things more entertaining, but more confusing and complicated.
Let’s just be up front: the whole thing is unbelievable, so much so that even dedicated romance/fantasy diehards will be cornered in a way they haven’t yet experienced. Demons and judges and diseases and flying horses and frozen gardens? Oh my! “Winter’s Tale” sits someplace in between a fairy tale and a child’s imagination in its scope, while also carving out space to be overly excessive with its pitch and miserable with its execution.
Goldsman directed, produced and wrote the script. I’m surprised he didn’t have a cameo, but if he did, I’d hope that his lines were better than those he spoon fed to the actors. There are more pointlessly random jabs in “Winter’s Tale” than most other romance dramas I can remember, and they don’t add to the experience in any manner at all. Farrell and Findlay have one conversation sorely lacking in any substance, and instantly, they’re an item. Crowe’s character becomes one of those villains who falls victim to speaking at all the wrong times and trying to be more of a badass than he really is. No one has anything worth saying, but man o’ man, do they ever try their best. Watching everyone interact is a bad enough chore, but when they start trying to have substantial conversations, they dead end into each other because there isn’t anything behind the hollow dialogue.
The characters aren’t developed as “Winter’s Tale” progresses. Instead, new characters are introduced along the way. Divulging the details ruins things just a big, but you can expect some recognizable names to appear in smaller supporting roles, including Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly and Eva Marie Saint. The romance develops (sort of) during the film, as does the plot, but the people executing it on screen are sort of an afterthought. I could probably make a pretty convincing argument for Peter’s horse being the most interesting role in the entire film.
“Winter’s Tale” comes up short because its characters are asked to execute a ridiculous storyline and given bare bones with which to do it. There was slight potential as it began, but in less than half the run time it went from sizzle to fizzle to dud. “Winter’s Tale” is unappealing in its infancy, adolescence, adulthood and twilight years. You’ll feel unfulfilled when it’s done, and probably disappointed in yourself for even starting it.
Despite its content, “Winter’s Tale” came through with above average visuals. The picture clarity is above average all the way through, and for the most part the coloration is pretty good. While it was pretty easy to tell where the CGI was doing its thing, overall the visual ebb and flow here is stronger than I expected. The costumes are thoroughly detailed, as are the sets and location shoots, which help to add much needed depth. The film’s 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 transfer is a good one with few gaping flaws.
There are moments where things come through loud and clear, and then there are moments when it’s difficult to pick up on a specific word or two along the way. I suppose inconsistent would be the best word, but that’s compensated for thanks to a decent musical score from Hans Zimmer. Characters whisper in raspy tones every so often during “Winter’s Tale,” and on top of it being hard to hear them, it is irritating to strain for something that turned out to be not worth hearing in the first place. The DTS-High Definition Master Audio English 5.1 soundtrack is probably better than I’m going to give it credit for, but while the effects are good and the sound comes through cleanly, the dialogue gets lost. Other choices are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digitals, while Spanish, French and English are available as subtitles.
The Blu-ray disc comes with a standard definition DVD and a digital copy of the film. There are a couple featurettes that offer cookie cutter behind the scenes stuff, but otherwise it’s nothing really worth screaming about.
A Final Word:
“Winter’s Tale” didn’t offer me any low hanging fruit, and even if it had, I probably would have taken one bite and spit it out. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its execution never even came close to hitting the target.