Rated PG-13 for violence and a tastefully shot sex scene
Written by Akiva Goldsman from a novel by Mark Helprin
Directed by Akiva Goldsman
Starring Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay and more
It's not Shakespeare, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Winter's Tale," the new romance starring Colin Farrell, is not based on, inspired by or even suggested by the Shakespeare play. It's an entirely independent creature, an unexpected mix of mysticism, humor, and romantic tropes that manages to be both faintly ridiculous and oddly charming. It may not be your particular cup of tea, but you've definitely never seen anything like it.
Without giving too much away, the plot follows the journey of Farrell's character from his start as a baby in a boat to the fulfillment of his destiny in the modern day. Along the way he runs into true love, a handful of demons (or, as they're called here, "agents of chaos") played by surprisingly famous actors, an angelic horse, charming and wise little girls and heaps of destiny.
On one level, that destiny is exactly the same sort of swoony romantic nonsense you've come to expect from certain types of movies. On another level, however, it's just a small piece of a larger religious philosophy that seems more suited to a fantasy movie than a romance. Though I would have like more explanation, the idea was both fascinating and vital in giving the movie more of an impact.
There were also several small moments that worked brilliantly, particularly the flashes of surprisingly dry humor. Farrell's introduction to Findlay's character was delightful, sweet and funny and awkward in equal measure. It also served as a nice counterbalance to the mysterious nature of the characters' beliefs.
Other elements were more of a mixed bag. For every charming moment between the lovers, there was another where they did little more than stare into one another's eyes. The plot offered a few nice structural twists, but commits the sin of completely wasting Jennifer Connely's character. Russell Crowe was fun as one of the "agents of chaos" – as was another famous actor whose appearance I won't spoil – but neither got nearly enough screen time. If Goldsman had trimmed some of the love-struck staring, he might have had time for more plot.
Since that didn't happen, however, there's a part of me that will mourn every character whose screen time was sacrificed for another romantic quota moment. My favorite is a young man who owes Russell Crowe's character a favor, a young man who was once an angel but who chose to come down and get a mortal body. When Crowe asks whether it was worth it, the young man just looks disgusted and walks away.
There's a whole movie in that look. Until it exists, "Winter's Tale" is worth a look.