New York City is subsumed in arctic winds, dark nights, and white lights, its life unfolds, for it is an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built, and nothing exists that can check its vitality. One night in winter, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), orphan and master-mechanic, attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks the house is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the love between Peter, an Irish burglar in his early 20's, and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a young girl, who is dying. Written by
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Bad enough it may keep you from reading the novel. Reviewers that have not read the novel are making wrong assumptions.
If you have not read the book, use this review as a reason to either bypass the film initially and read the book first, or to understand that the screenplay is a huge departure from the intended story.
The novel Winter's Tale is a romance with a supernatural overtone bathed in a tribute to New York City if it could always remain in a mystical state. The book is sometimes verbose, often funny, and heartfelt in it's depiction of love. The movie insults your intellect by ignoring the vast symbolism used in the book. Example: Time Travel - The book allows for you to understand certain characters have time traveled, while the movie insists certain characters travel only to follow others telling you that they are supernatural beings. It's NOT so. Here is exactly where the director really fowled the film. Deviating from the author's intent, turning the story into a devil's agents interplay is awkward out of place. The devil was NEVER once mentioned or implied in the original story. Yes, some devices are necessary in film to help the audience, but Pearly Soames purpose as a protagonist in the film is reduced to silly. Furthermore Pearly's reason for chasing Peter had nothing to do with Peter's love for Beverly. Pearly never met Beverly in the novel. Here is one more non-spoiler as it too won't be found in the film. In the book, Pearly's purpose for chasing Peter Lake began the moment he forced Peter Lake into his employ and Peter later turned a huge heist against Pearly. Pearly's gang was decimated for a time. From that day forward, Pearly's will to kill Peter grew in every chase that left him empty handed.
Being sold as a straight up romance or love story is almost a mistake because the film does try to encompass the much larger story surrounding the love affair. From Peter Lake's horse which has a story of his own to a wildly funny malapropian newspaper editor named Craig Binky. Other Characters such as Virginia Gamely were altered ridiculously. Virginia was from the Lake of the Coherees in the novel. In the film, she is just another New Yorker. This is where the film falls apart. The director's vain effort to include the other threaded stories inside the book are convoluted.
When you use the same title as a book for a movie it's wise to make an honest adaptation, otherwise change the name of the movie from the book entirely to avoid comparisons entirely. Then follow the guide of placing in the credits, "based on the story Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin." Director Akiva Goldsman (also wrote the screenplay) zig-zagged across both these traditional paths and the story suffered in his mash-up. Change a characters hair color, but don't change their role or destiny.
In this case Winter's Tale isn't even a director's interpretation. The book weaves a subtle supernatural element that may be so vague that the director wanted to spell it out to moviegoers. In doing so, he dumbs down the original story to the point it insults the audience, holding their hand and telling them what to think as opposed to letting the moviegoer figure things out.
Winter's Tale is condensed, filtered and sanitized of it's soul. Even without having read the novel, evidence of awkward changes for the screenplay dumb down the original subtle supernatural theme which was ironically as clear in it's message as it was abstract in it's delivery.
As a romance film there are heartfelt moments and the chemistry between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn does have enough strength to bring a tear to some audience members. Collin Farrell's soft humanity is felt quite often too. Yet, except for a candid conversation among the two men Peter Lake and Isaac Penn which draws an intellectual laugh, there is no humor to break up the tension in the film. Yes, the contrast of the book is once again worth noting. The book had meaningful characters which were lost in the movie. They were not a direct part of the love story, and as such were eliminated. Eliminating so many great elements of the original story killed the journey Peter Lake would take you through. The cinematography alone in Winter's Tale was not enough to paint the fantastic picture of the magical New York City the author intended as a character in the story. Without that fabric the mystical world Peter Lake and Beverly Penn exist is absent.
Winter's Tale is a complex supernatural love story with too many important characters to have fit into a short two or three hour film. It's not written in a manner that would translate into a part one and part two series either. Perhaps it's best medium will one day be a mini- series a network can allow to play out over five to eight episodes. It's often said that the journey is the reward and the story of Winter's Tale is a long journey that cannot be condensed. In this case, spotlighting one part of the journey is not fulfilling either.
Let's just make one thing clear to anyone that has neither read the book nor seen the movie. The love story in this film takes place in the first quarter of the novel. There are three remaining quarters to the story that thread the love story of Peter Lake and Beverly Penn into the overall journey, but their story is told early and ends early. Well, that's not entirely true. And yet it is. Now for all those clues and a tease, don't you just wonder what a book that has three quarters more to say has to say? For my full review just search my name, Lars Hindsley and you'll find DangerMans Lair.
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