Let me start this post with some full disclosure: I’ve never read the book Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. I have heard wonderful things about this book — that it was one of the best books of the year, or the decade, or, like, EVER. I have it on my list of Stuff I’d Like to Read Some Day, but that day is not today. I imagine that if I’d read this book before I watched the movie I might have understood the story better, but I didn’t and so here we are. With this … mess …
Winter’s Tale contains a memorable, if quirky, cast of characters including Colin Farrell as The Good Guy with enormous eyebrows and a stupid haircut and Russell Crowe as The Bad Guy with one of the worst Irish accents I’ve ever heard. Oh, and Jessica Brown Findlay (aka Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) as the Beautiful Dying Girl Who Doesn’t Seem To Be Sick As Much As Turning Into The Human Torch. Okay, maybe she IS sick, and I just don’t understand how consumption works. Or fevers. Or how hot you would have to be in order to melt snow with your bare feet.
Look, I know for a fact that all three of these people can act, and can act well, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But I think that acting in this movie must have been kind of an uphill battle, and there’s only so much you can do with doofy dialogue.
These characters seem to live in a modern-day yet magical version of our world, except the “magical” part is confusing because the rules are never explained to us so we have to try to piece things together as we go along. Characters react with jaw-dropping surprise to some supernatural events but not others, and this happens so frequently that I kept thinking, Okay, is THAT guy an idiot or am *I* an idiot or is this just the way this world works and we’re BOTH idiots? It also didn’t help that this world was populated by regular people in addition to demons and … um … Lucifer (more on him in a moment). So then when the characters on the screen wouldn’t react like some FRIGGING AMAZING THING had just happened, I would wonder, Okay, did they not react because they know they live in a magical world? Or did they not react because only the demons (and the audience) could see what just happened? Or did they not react because this was badly acted, or badly directed, or …?
And then when gangster / demon Russell Crowe needs help in his quest to try to vanquish Our Hero, he goes to see Lucifer as played by … Will Smith? What the hell? His presence in this movie was so strange and distracting that I found it hard to concentrate on anything other than questions like What the hell is Will Smith doing in this movie? and Is he even going to TRY not to sound like a modern American? and So … he just sits there all day in the dark waiting for company to come over so he can turn on his one light bulb?
Overall, I thought that many parts of the movie were sweet and lovely and romantic and downright gorgeous to look at. But then I’d get confused by something like the horse, that was sort of a flying horse except the wings appeared and disappeared, except that we were TOLD that it was really a dog that sometimes appeared as a horse, and so I kept waiting for it to turn into a dog except it never did, so … what was the POINT of telling us that it was really a dog?
Or how the sunlight shines through a pile of jewels to turn into a 3-d blueprint of a building for reasons that escape me. Or, you know, how somebody could survive for a century in New York City and never figure out how to get a fake ID??? Actually, the last segment of this movie (after Our Hero spends that century drawing chalk pictures and not much else, apparently), is where the movie lost what little good will I had for it because then the romance was out the window and it got into the “do you believe in miracles?” phase. I won’t say more without getting spoilery, but MAN, did it take a downturn in the last act!
There are lots of movies out there that are based on books, and while it often helps to have read the book beforehand, IT SHOULD NOT BE ESSENTIAL TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. And I don’t have a problem suspending my disbelief, but I need some clue about what the rules of this place are before I know what to suspend and how much.
And please PLEASE PLEASE don’t make Russell Crowe do an accent like that ever again. You know that he could have played an English guy or even an American guy and we would have believed it, right? And speaking of accents, if you’re going to hire Will Smith for a project, just … I dunno … get him to sound different than usual. I never thought I’d say this, but even that weird futuristic monotone he used in After Earth would have been an improvement over this whole “casual day” approach.
And yes, I promise, I will read the book at some point in the future. And on the day I finish that book, I believe that I will finally understand what was going on in this movie.