Review: Winter's Tale

16:00, Feb 21 2014
A Winter's Tale
FLAWED: A Winter's Tale

Directed by Akiva Goldsman

Akiva Goldsman's screenwriting career has been the equivalent of Forrest Gump's chocolate assortment - "you never know what you're going to get".

For every A Time to Kill or A Beautiful Mind there's been a Batman and Robin or Practical Magic. Sadly his first outing as director falls more into that latter category with this tale of a cinderella man amongst angels and demons saddled with a plot more complex and confused than The DA Vinci Code.

Based on Mark Helprin's popular 1983 magical-realist novel, Winter's Tale is the story of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) an orphan turned thief whose falling out with former mentor Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) sees him running for his life.

Rescued by a mysterious white horse, Lake decides to a spot of pilfering for the road at the home of newspaper magnate Isaac Penn (William Hurt).

However, Lake's safe-cracking is disturbed by Penn's sickly daughter Beverly (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay) who surprisingly offers him tea rather than flees in terror.

Intrigued by her offer and taken by her looks, Lake becomes determined to do what he can to keep her alive. "Surely you can love someone so completely they can't die," he argues. However, little does he know that Pearly and other dark forces fear that Lake might just be able to do that and will stop at nothing to prevent that.

Rumour has it Martin Scorsese was interested in the book but deemed it unfilmable - he may have been right. For all its charms (Farrell embracing his new found slightly less bad boy charisma, Caleb Deschanel's atmospheric cinematography), Winter's Tale is stopped cold by its muddling mix of mythologies, suffocating schmaltz and overwhelming sense of cobbled together déjà vu.

Yes, even the sets look borrowed from Uncle Marty with the opening exteriors straight out of Gangs of New York and the Grand Central Station interiors eerily echoing Hugo.

Goldsman regular Crowe also seems to be channelling Gangs' Bob the Butcher (albeit with Darby O'Gill's oirish accent), as his impish Pearly (a man who specialises in blackening souls and crushing miracles) goes the full Javert in his pursuit of Lake.

Throw in elements of City of Angels, Ghost, The Devil's Advocate and Posession and you'll have a fair idea where this is headed.

But amongst the clunky symbolism, sprawling storyline and Farrell's foppish hair, there is a genuinely stunning and amusing cameo, a woefully under-utilised Jennifer Connolly (one of many actors who act like they just did a few days on this in between other bigger projects) and a touching love story desperate to get out from amongst the supernatural mumbo-jumbo.