Joyce Glasser reviews A New York Winter’s Tale (February 21, 2014) Cert 12, 118 min.
From the title, you might expect scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut to be a real treat; along the lines of Joss Whedon’s delightful, low-budget adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. After all, there is the Shakespearean reference in the title. And both men, who are New Yorkers born three years apart, graduated from Wesleyan University in the 1980s and went on to become hugely successful film and television writers (Whedon also being one of the most successful director/producers of all time).
But alas, A New York Winter’s Tale, which sends reformed thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) back and forth between 1916 and 2014 –with a brief stint in 1895 when he is left orphaned by would-be immigrant parents – is no treat. Goldsman has (literally) produced a big budget, sentimental adult fairy tale with religious overtones. As in a morality play, good and evil battle it out for Peter’s soul, but Fate, not Peter, holds the cards. Narrated platitudes tell us that ‘we are all connected,’ that ‘magic is all around’ if we just look for it and that we are put on earth to save other people, etc.
Peter, a kind of Oliver Twist character, was brought up on the New York streets as a thief, but, unbeknown to him, he has a higher calling. He has just walked out on his mentor Pearly (get it?) Soames (Russell Crowe), a ruthless gangster who is really the Devil’s Disciple. Pearly doesn’t take kindly to betrayal and is out to find and punish Peter. Fortunately for Peter, he was born under une belle étoile and a flying white horse (the spirit horse from last year’s The Lone Ranger) comes to his rescue.
The horse directs Peter to an enticing looking mansion, complete with a nice safe to crack. But that is not the reason he’s there, of course. The reason is Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), the wealthy owner’s (William Hurt) beautiful, consumptive daughter, who is playing a passionate piano opus with her long, red mane tossing like waves with every chord. Love at first sight means that Peter must not only try to save Beverly from consumption, (‘Is it possible to love someone so completely they simply can’t die?’ he asks) but must defend her, and himself, from a vindictive Pearly.
But Pearly got it wrong, and the red-headed woman Peter was put on earth to save is really a dying child who wasn’t to be born for another 90 years. The modern girl’s mother is Jennifer Connelly, who, having won an Oscar for her role in A Beautiful Mind, which Goldsman wrote, apparently felt beholden to take on this thankless, functional role. She is here reunited with Russell Crowe who was the star of that film. Other top talent include Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ) for the cinematography and Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) for the passionate score.
Goldsman is known for his lucrative adaptations of comics like Batman Forever and of novels like The Client and The Da Vinci Code. It is difficult to see what attracted him to this one for his directorial debut. He made it through Mark Helprin’s 800-page novel, Winter’s Tale, with enthusiasm, but not everyone will reach the finish line of Goldman’s two-hour saga in the same high spirits.
You can watch the film trailer here: