There’s a fine line between effective magical realism and ridiculous cinematic gobbledygook, a barrier which the unadulterated bull hockey of Winter’s Tale obliterates time and time again. Based on a beloved book and bastardized by one of the most talentless hacks in all of Tinseltown — Akiva Goldsman — this is a piece of parallel universe malarkey that makes little or no sense except as a time traveling good vs. evil allegory involving personal miracles, fables, and a major motion picture superstar in a desperation cameo. The mediocre mastermind behind this hog wash may have an undeserved Oscar in his hand (for A Beautiful Mind) and a list of commercial accomplishments (I Am Legend, A Time to Kill, Batman and Robin), but he’s a scribe in occupational label only. With this unfettered garbage, he proves he directs as well as he writes.
Our story starts in 1906, when the family of a small infant named Peter Lake is turned away at Ellis Island. Hoping to keep their son in America, these parents place him in a model ship and set him afloat towards Manhattan. Fast forward a few years and we see Pete (now Colin Farrell) running for his life. As the unofficial adopted son of a gangster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), he wants to leave the street life and escape to the country. Unfortunately, his father/boss won’t let him. You see, he’s a demon (?) working for Lucifer (??) and in this version of NYC, Pearly’s power involves keeping humans from realizing their inner ability to perform miracles (??? — I know, I know… just follow along here). Sure, he may make money as a thief and crook, but he’s basically a soul crusher for Satan.
Peter, helped by his spirit guide, which takes the appearance of a white horse but is actually a dog in a horse disguise (don’t ask), breaks into the house of wealthy publisher Isaac Penn (William Hurt) and instantaneously falls in love with his sickly daughter Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay). Convinced his miracle is meant to cure her, our hero is distraught when their time together ends tragically. Fast forward nearly 100 years and Peter is still around, has lost his memory, and is still being pursued by Pearly. Trying to remember who he was/is, our lead hooks up with single mom (Jennifer Connelly) who helps him unlock the secrets of the past, and with the help of Beverly’s now aged sister Willa (Eva Marie Saint), the true purpose behind his miracle.
Oh… brother! Maybe within the pages of Mark Helprin’s celebrated novel, such ideas flourished and found grounded authenticity. Perhaps, with someone other than Goldsman behind the camera’s invasive and consistent lens flares, someone with more experience or at least some clue on how to handle such ham-fisted whimsy, this movie might have worked. Instead, Winter’s Tale is terrible, a chore to sit through and laughable throughout almost all of its poorly paced running time. Since nothing is ever explained — like why Crowe’s character occasionally transforms when he’s angry or why God decided to turn people into stars after they do a good deed — we are stuck wallowing through pile after pile of entertainment excrement being pitched as five-hanky romantic drama. While the actors give it their best, it would take a thespian of Herculean craft to turn what Goldsman wants into something other than swill.
It’s not just the abundant contrivances and coincidences, the flawed folklore that’s never outlined in the first place, or the last act realization that we’ve been manipulated and misdirected the entire time. No, Winter’s Tale is bad because it wasn’t made by someone with skill. Instead, this is a studio giving a longtime employee carte blanche to do whatever he wants with a few million bucks as a result of his years of service. Apparently, Goldsman wanted to make an unintentionally funny disaster. In this regard, he more than succeeded.