Winter’s Tale

from imdb.com

from imdb.com

An unusual love story that breaches space and time unfolds when the thief Peter Lake meets Beverly, a young woman dying from tuberculosis. Caught in a greater war between angels and demons, they learn to fulfil their respective destinies, but at some cost…

At the beginning, there was sweet fantasy…

Based on the novel of the same name and directed by Akiva Goldsman, the film makes a generally interesting, deep fantasy world collide with the New York of our time, but also that of 1916. At the beginning, it is a nice mixture between realism and fantasy; if, like me, you make a point of not knowing much about a film before you see it, you may have some difficulties figuring out what’s what, but once the fantasy elements are introduced and their existence justified, you can sit back comfortably in a fairly common fight between the classical good and evil forces. To be fair, it’s been a while, I think, since the whole ‘angels and demons’ mentality was played out this openly, and although I favour character depth and complexity more than anything, the binary narrative of ‘good versus evil’ makes one thing easier: thinking. Indeed, once you get your head around it, the most work on your part is done and you can lean back and take in the visuals – because you have to give the film that, it really looks extremely pretty.

But is that enough?

Nope, probably not. In fairness, although it was a nice feel-good experience, I had the feeling that the film was trying way too hard to be a feel-good film, too. Of course there is drama and death and danger, confusion and anger and despair, but it’s all undermined by the head-over-heels love that has, of course, to do with destiny. And that’s where all the problems start. Peter and Beverly may be made for one another and they really do make a sweet couple; the actors (Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay) really do a good job portraying that. But the whole idea of destiny, the long talks about stars and our place in the world, all coupled with the ‘angels and demons’ issue, makes it appear a bit forced – and, to some extent, a little pointless. It feels as if the film is trying to impress you by making you feel small and important at the same time; all it got, from me, was irritation and slight frustration about the overall dynamics of the film. Although I don’t like it when people use this phrase to describe a film: it’s trying to be more than it actually is.

Underwhelming, much?

I came to the cinema with relatively high expectations, as I’d heard positive things about the movie before it  came out. Maybe it was that; and maybe it was that I cannot relate to love stories as much, especially when they’re all about destiny and not about personality; but while the film indeed made me feel a bit better while it lasted, that effect didn’t last long. It would have probably been fine if it had stopped in 1916; the jump that it made afterwards to the present was a bit too much and made it feel a little more ridiculous. It’s not surprising, then, that the film was generally received quite negatively by critics.

But…

…yes, there’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there? Before absolutely condemning this movie, some positive things need to be pointed out, of course. Firstly, the film did feature some interesting characters, although more by design and not quite by depth. Typically for me, I found the demonic villain much more intriguing, and I think he would have provided good material for more insightful scenes as well. (Also, is there anything that Russel Crowe cannot make better?) Secondly, it did have a few funny moments; the first meeting between Peter and Beverly is a good example, and each appearance of Will Smith just seemed to leave me and the rest of the audience in stitches. (For no particular reason, really, except for the fact that his role was quite unexpected.) And the fact that one of the most important characters is a horse that’s actually a dog, well, that’s quite something, too. And last but certainly not least, there are, as I already mentioned, the visuals; it’s really prettily made, and although focusing on quite some clichés, it was generally a nice cinematic experience if you do not dwell too much on the other problems.

This, of course, is an adaptation and adaptations are always a little harder to analyse – and produce, for sure, but as I haven’t read its source novel, I cannot comment upon its effectiveness – judging from the critical reception, though, it did not appear to be a particularly successful one. It’s always a problem when a film tries to maintain the grandeur that a novel can so easily produce; sometimes what you just end up with instead is shallow or uninteresting characters and a plot that does not seem to make both ends meet.

I like magic, I really do. I love fantasy. I am just not too hot on the whole ‘Destiny and Love’ angle. To others, it might be a successful film; to people like me, you may struggle to even remember many things about the movie even if you saw it less than 24 hours ago. So it may be worth a try; surely just because of the positive aspects, it’s an entertaining experience even if it is a little underwhelming in the narrative area. And I highly recommend you also have a look at what Neil Gaiman has to say about it; there’s someone who knows his magical realism well…

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