I’m struggling with the words to explain the type of film "Winter’s Tale" is. Based on the acclaimed 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, the film is what some describe as "magical realism." Which is fitting.
The story travels from 1895 to 1916 to 2014 all with one character named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell). He is a man who was given up by his parents for a better life in America, was raised an orphan, and became a thief. But it was the day that he met a mysterious white horse that would change the course of his life. Part of that change would be meeting Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown-Findlay "Downton Abbey") a young woman dying of consumption. The two fall instantly in love and Peter makes it his plan to make her happy in the short time she has left. But an old boss named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) is angry at a past slight and wants him dead. He also wants the horse because of its magical qualities. So he decides the best way to get to Peter is to go after what Peter now loves the most.
I want to stop my summary there. For those that haven’t read the 750 page novel the film is based on, the surprises in Helprin’s story are what make this film so special. Applauded Screenwriter and first-time director Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind") has been in love with this book for decades and his passion for the story is felt in every frame.
Let me get one thing clear: cynics will not like this film. "Winter’s Tale" is essentially an adult fable that employs preternatural concepts. There are demons, flying horses, reincarnation (of sorts), and destinies written in the stars. At the same time, Goldsman treats these subjects very seriously which allows the magic to weave through in a way that doesn’t make you chuckle. For me, this is one of the few films in recent years that had my eyes opening wide at fairy-tale like qualities and crying at the swooning romance on display. For the fact of the matter is, this film is unabashedly and heartbreakingly romantic in the best ways possible.
Credit must go to Colin Farrell for selling his part of the story. His charm is affable, but it is the way he portrays the deep love he has for Beverly that is so clear in his eyes. Goldsman even allows his camera to linger on Farrell’s face so we can fully feel the emotions flooding over it. Brown-Findlay is wholly engaging as the very sick Beverly who becomes the object of Peter’s affections. She plays the role of a dying woman without making her pitiful. Because she isn’t afraid of dying, she is so full of love and wonder that she looks beyond Peter’s thieving past and finds the gentle man underneath.
The rest of the supporting cast is excellent, although most of the roles are small. Crowe is an imposingly evil presence. William Hurt is lovely as Beverly’s doting father. Jennifer Connelly doesn’t have as large a role as usual, but she is lovely regardless. The remaining cast includes Graham Greene, Eva Marie Saint, and even a surprise appearance by a Hollywood heavy-weight in one of the more obvious bits of stunt-casting. Although to be fair, he pulls it off.
When you go into "Winter’s Tale" you aren’t just seeing a film about romance. This is about destiny in all its manifestations. Goldsman said: "I tried to tell this story out of my own hope -- that everything happens for a reason, that everything is connected, and that no matter what loss we may experience today, we will one day understand the greater good that came from it somewhere else in the world."
It’s a lofty goal, but he succeeds brilliantly. Between the script and performances, to the gorgeous cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and the beautiful score by Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams, this is truly a movie unlike anything you’ve ever seen. I found myself in awe as to where the film was going because it is impossible to predict.
Therefore I’m just going to say it: "Winter’s Tale" is not only my favorite film of the year so far, but it has already found its way into my favorite films of all time.