Butler County Times Gazette
  • Movie review: ‘Winter’s Tale’ not for the cold-hearted

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  • People with cold hearts need not buy a ticket to this extremely warmhearted movie. Others who should stay away include those who aren’t fans of the fantasy genre.
    Adapted by veteran screenwriter Akiva Goldsman from the 1983 Mark Helprin novel, and directed by Goldsman (his debut in that seat), the film provides a brief narrated intro that tells us how “we’re all connected” (an idea also shared by the brilliant “Cloud Atlas”), then settles down to jumping about in time, but not place. The setting is always New York City, but it’s seen in 1895, 1916 and 2014.
    Most of the story happens in that middle year, where professional thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into houses to get by, but he is on the run from someone who’s much further out on the wrong side of the law. At least Peter is human. His adversary, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), at first seems to be the head of a New York crime syndicate, always followed by his faithful band of black derby-wearing, gun-toting minions. But he’s revealed to be something more than that ... something less human than Peter.
    A clue: Pearly took in the orphaned Peter a long time ago, taught him everything bad that he knew, then freaked out when Peter decided to head out on his own. You just don’t do that to Pearly Soames.
    Another clue, one about a big difference between the two men, revealed in two pieces of dialogue: Peter proudly mentions to a new acquaintance, “I’m a thief, and a damn good one.” Pearly, in a frightening, whispery voice, tells another, “I love blood on the snow, especially if I spilt the blood.”
    In short, Pearly is hunting Peter; Peter – really a good man – meets and falls for young, beautiful, wealthy, and dying Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay); Pearly believes that Peter might be able to work a miracle and save Beverly. Pearly cannot let this happen.
    What, you might ask, the heck is going on here?
    An explanation, without giving too much away: It’s already been established that Peter is a human. Pearly? Why, he’s a demon, and in this story, a demon’s purpose in life is to “blacken souls and crush miracles.” There’s also a certain fellow making sure that Pearly does his job properly. That would be the “man” Pearly casually calls Lou, which is short for Lucifer (Will Smith, quite good, in a role we’ve never seen him do before).
    The script is filled with lots of talk about life and death, light and dark, love and hate, good and evil, magic and miracles, and spirit guides (could someone please cue the white, winged horse?). Some of the complaints I overheard at an advance screening concerned the fact that parts of the script veer right to the edge of becoming saccharine. Yes, they do, but they never go all the way. Besides, all of that is counterbalanced by the parts of it that jump out at you with a burst of chilling, jump-in-your-seat malevolence. There’s a nice combo of acting and writing shortly after the charming but thieving Peter starts to fall for Beverly – and she for him – then has to meet her dad, the wealthy newspaper publisher Isaac Penn (William Hurt). Farrell and Hurt are casually electric together.
    Page 2 of 2 - But soon after that, just past the film’s halfway point, there’s a plot turn that will stun some viewers into silence, while making other’s think, or possibly blurt out, something to the effect of, “WHAT?!”
    That’s OK, because the second half has plenty more to offer, including a jump back to present time, pulling along some of its apparently ageless characters with it; an appearance by the (in my opinion) always-welcome Jennifer Connelly; a tying up of all loose ends; and the possibility of a cinematic record being set when one character gives someone else five vicious head butts in a row.
    There are also a whole lot of soaring strings at the end, accompanying a conclusion that complements them. I’ve got no problem with soaring strings. Only those cold-hearted people do.
    Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
    WINTER’S TALE
    Written and directed by Akiva Goldsman
    With Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith
    Rated PG-13
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