I refuse to hate a movie with a magical white horse in it. It may be completely ridiculous but I cannot bring myself to begin hating it. Winter Tale, based on Mark Heprin’s bestseller, is a romance within the fantasy genre jumping a few time periods. A film like this is easy to mock or turn away from, before watching it or while watching it. The fantastical elements in the film aren’t suppressed and there is no room for non-believers to be eased into it. If you are a hopeless romantic or believe in angels and demons, you wouldn’t cringe. Believing in time travel would definitely be a bonus.
Jessica Brown Findlay, who took my breath away in the best TV show running currently a.k.a. Downton Abbey, is perfectly cast. She, with her luscious voice and alluring good looks, comfortably fits this story. Colin Farrell plays Peter Blake, the thief who speaks a dialogue, which had my romantic side give him a sentimental nod. At their meet-cute, she asks him what is the best thing he has ever stolen. He replies saying he’s beginning to think he hasn’t stolen it yet. Till the film stays in this time period of the 1910s, when it is an enchanting romance, it soars. The other parts don’t quite pan out.
The cinematography by the stalwart Caleb Deschanel captures New York at the turn of the century and creates the winter iciness with immense beauty. You can feel the atmosphere and the fanciful imagination. If only the alternate universe of the film, far removed from reality, was set-up with more weight.
While the story is extremely moving and touching, it is highly extravagant and preposterous. When Jessica Brown Findlay speaks the voice-over (in that sexy voice) (I don’t usually call voices sexy), you can sense the film would work better on paper. It isn’t that Akiva Goldsman’s direction is lacking but his command on the tone wavers at many places. For any cinematic universe to make sense, it needs to let the viewers get a grasp on it. This is done better when the content of the film and its style are in sync throughout. Goldsman has written many film before, including the brilliant A Beautiful Mind (2001) and the not-so-brilliant The Da Vinci Code/ Angels & Demons (2006/09). Maybe a less ambitious story would have fared better for a directorial debut.
There are three cameos in the film. One of which is by Eva Marie Saint which made me nostalgic about North by Northwest (1959) and On the Waterfront (1954) at the same time. What a pleasant surprise. William Hurt shows up and makes a scene with absurd dialogues look supreme. The other cameo is by Will Smith who plays Lucifer. Yes, the devil. I’m easy on over-the-top fantasy but sorry Mr. Smith, this was terrible. Get into some kind of character.
Russell Crowe is Pearly, the villain with a not-so-villainous name and completely overplays it. Jennifer Connelly who won an Oscar for her work with Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, makes an appearance in the 2014 segment. She is radiant but doesn’t get to do much here. In a film where Jessica Brown Findlay and a white horse have already swept you away, it can be a tough act to follow.
There are more takers for cynical reality than sentimental fantasy today. Especially when it’s a romantic drama which is our romantic fantasies on celluloid anyway. If they aren’t plausible, they aren’t well-received. The plot of this film is convoluted and the fantasy is unhinged. These can easily overshadow the many instances of magic and beauty this film accomplishes. If it were more successful in rendering the story on celluloid, this would have been the film everybody would be talking about. In its current form, the film partly succeeds but ultimately concedes defeat in its ambition. It’s a wonderful failure, nonetheless.view less