Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Winter's Tale

Film #427

THE PLOT

A burglar falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her.

Year 2, Film #62

THE REVIEW: Winter’s Tale is a very mysterious film. The film itself is filled with mystery which gets you thinking about where the story is going, but there’s also a mystery as to what exactly the film is trying to be. Parts of it seem like a classic love story where one has to save the other and face all these obstacles along the way. But for the most part, the film missed its mark by a long shot and instead the writing, acting, and the unanticipated (at least initially) supernatural aspects created laughs where there should have been connections forming between you and the characters.

Let me start off with the good of this film though. I’m a big mystery fan and enjoy the genre because not only does it require you to think about everything you’re seeing, but it also builds up suspense and intrigue because you’re not entirely sure what’s going to happen next. The opening of this film was beautifully crafted in a mysterious way. It drew me in with the parallel stories going on (one in 1895, another in 2014) and a very omniscient narrator talking about life and the stars. While the narration was a bit over the top, as a whole it did a good job at presenting the bits of information you needed to get a taste for what’s to come. It’s clear there’s something unique about this story (it spans a century) and that there is a strong connection between the two times that isn’t quite clear. More importantly, this opening didn’t try to tell too much. It briefly established some characters, like Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), but it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Past ten minutes or so however, things start to get extremely weird, and not in a good way. For starters, the writing is painfully bad which is surprising given that it’s written (and directed) by Akiva Goldsman who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Beautiful Mind. This could be for trying to stick too close to the original story (it’s based off a novel of the same name, which of course I haven’t read so I don’t know) or possibly for trying to do it’s own thing. Either way, the dialogue between the characters, especially between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) feels so forced. An exemplary exchange can be heard in the trailer where Beverly asks, “What’s the best thing you’ve ever stolen?” and Peter responds with “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet.” In the trailer, this seems heartfelt and shows how Peter feels about Beverly. However, in context, what could, and should, be this lovely and meaningful dialogue instead produced laughs because it didn’t feel natural. You could hear the script writing instead of just characters acting.

Besides the dialogue, which provides some unintentional humor, there’s also the supernatural, or rather divine beings and other spiritual bits. Pearly Soames is an agent of Lucifer (the devil, played by a surprising actor) and Athansor is a white horse who is a guardian angel. There’s also a ridiculous amount of lens flares (J. J. Abrams would be jealous) to signify the importance of light and it’s representation of the good in people. This aspect of the film is what the mystery in the beginning of the film is alluding to (not a spoiler, you find out shortly after the beginning what’s going on). I wouldn’t consider the angels and demons a negative to the film per se. It’s not the fact that this otherworldly element infiltrates an otherwise normal love story that’s the problem; it’s that it’s not incorporated well. This goes back to the dialogue and it not feeling natural or seamless with the rest of the film. What should have added to the drama and the suspense of the film instead produced yet more laughs. Hearing the voice of Satan and seeing people’s throats be ripped apart should instill fear, not make you giggle.

Winter’s Tale is one of those films that looks good in trailers and out of context, but as a whole fails to materialize into something good. The love between Peter and Beverly and the mystery of how two different time periods — the early 1900s and the early 2000s — are related are solid ideas for a film. But Goldsman isn’t able to put the pieces together in a way that works and the result is a film that’s unintentionally funny for all the wrong reasons. This should be a serious film, one that hooks you early on and carries you through the adversity these characters must face. Instead, the dialogue and actions feel forced and what was a mysterious supernatural presence in the beginning of the film turns into a running joke that undermines the film’s drive.

Winter’s Tale opens in theaters this Friday, February 14, 2014.

THE RATING: 2 out of 5