Just about every film requires you to suspend your belief to a certain degree. For a comedy, you have to believe that a guy can get into these incredible situations. For a drama, you have to believe that a mother will put all of her hope into the hands of someone she has just met. For a period piece, or fantasy, you have to buy into the world the filmmakers are creating. Once you make this conscious effort, to go along for the ride, if the filmmakers have done their jobs, you should be in for a good ride.
Some films require more work from the viewer.
And then there are films like "Winter's Tale", the new movie from writer–director Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind", "The Da Vinci Code", TV's "Fringe"), a prolific writer and producer of Hollywood hits. With "Winter's Tale", Goldsman makes his feature film directorial debut. Based on a book by Mark Helprin, "Winter's Tale" is a romance set in early 19th century New York. A thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), is trying to stay one foot ahead of his former boss, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a dangerous, vindictive criminal who is eager to see his former associate die. Pulling on last theft before leaving town, Peter meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay, TV's "Downtown Abbey"), a young woman dying of consumption, who needs to keep cold. Peter rescues her and they join the rest of her family at their upstate vacation home, situated near a lake frozen over and ideal for ice skating. With every moment, Peter and Beverly fall more and more in love.
Flash forward one hundred years and Peter, with no memory of who he is, wanders the still familiar streets of New York. Walking through Central Park, Peter meets a little girl Abby (Ripley Sobo) who runs across his path. Her mother, Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) soon meets Peter again and he learns Abby is dying of cancer. Pearly also learns of Peter's return and sends his band of thugs out to track him down.
From this brief description, many of you are probably uttering "What the frack?" And many more of you probably just decided that you will probably never see this film. And, to be quite frank, Goldsman deserves this type of reaction. "Winter's Tale" has a lot going on that will test your ability to both believe it and accept it. It seems like every ten minutes there is another plot point or character who is designed merely to test the ability of Average Joe Moviegoers ability to keep up with the mystical goings-on.
But if you stick with it, you will experience a romantic, beautiful fable. Goldsman has worked with the best of the best throughout his career as a writer and producer. For his directorial debut, he assembles many of these people and they are all ready, willing and able.
The most notable has to be cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Deschanel, who directed "The Black Stallion", easily one of the most beautiful movies ever made, brings a keen eye to this tale. In the first half, the part set in the early 1900s, New York has a steel blue, icy shimmer that seems to permeate every moment set outdoors. When the action moves inside, the rich, dark hues of the predominant wood make the moments warm and lovely. In present day New York, the shots are crystal clear and almost fluid.
Colin Farrell has had a bit of a tumultuous career – his supporting roles ("Saving Mr. Banks") seem to be more successful than his starring turns ("Dead Man Down", the "Total Recall" remake). With "Winter's Tale" he takes on an unabashedly romantic tear-jerker. And he convincingly portrays his attraction to Beverly. In the second part of the film, he is less convincing, but this is attributed to the abbreviated nature of the narrative.
Russell Crowe plays Pearly Soames, a bad guy who seems to be from the same stock as Peter - both are not subject to the rules of time or aging. And he is a scary guy, ready and willing to kill anyone who gets in his way, even trusted henchmen. As the story progresses, there are hints Pearly is some sort of underworld character. But these hints are brief and fail to fully flesh out the character. But Crowe gives it his all and delves into the character with all of his might and chew.
Jennifer Connelly pops up in the second half, but her character is introduced too quickly and isn't fleshed out enough to make her effective.
William Hurt and Eva Marie Saint have small, but effective, cameos.
The biggest problem with "Winter's Tale" is the abbreviated nature of the second half. I suspect that a significant portion of the book's story was cut, giving it a sloppy, tacked on feeling. As soon as Peter reappears in Central Park, he meets Abby and Virginia and almost immediately becomes involved in their lives. Also, Pearly almost immediately seems to know that Peter is back and his henchmen very quickly find him, forcing Peter to flee with Abby and Virginia. Given the texture and depth felt in the first half, the abruptness of the second is even more noticeable and serves to really stick out.
"Winter's Tale" has a lot going for it, but it requires a lot of work.