It’s hard to know exactly where to begin with ‘Winter’s Tale’, the new film from writer/director Akiva Goldsman. Goldsman is best known for his screenplay work, with films such as ‘I Am Legend’, ‘Cinderella Man’, and ‘The Da Vinci Code’, but he has yet to tackle directing a film until now. Even though he hasn’t directed before, Goldsman has worked with many of Hollywood’s biggest actors, so it’s not too surprising that with his most successful work as a screenwriter, he’s been able to put together a pretty great cast. Colin Farrell leads the cast, where he’s supported by the likes of Jennifer Connelly, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Russell Crowe, and Will Smith. It’s actually no surprise that Goldsman brought quite a few of the actors and actresses that he’s worked with before, bringing a sense of familiarity to ease him into the deep waters of directing. It’s just too bad that his script, as well as his direction, doesn’t give the cast a lot to work with, and will leave audiences scratching their heads.
Peter Lake (Farrell) is a common criminal in New York City, 1916. But when he crosses his boss, Pearly Soames (Crowe), his life is suddenly on the line in a way he could have never imagined. But when he meets a young girl who named Beverly Penn (Findlay), who is dying of consumption, Lake takes it on himself to try and save her life. What he doesn’t know though, is he’s actually the pawn in a much bigger game, stuck in a battle between a battle of angels and demons. One that will span over a century, and push him farther than he could have ever imagined.
The fact that Goldsman hasn’t directed a feature film at this point in his career is actually one of this film’s biggest problem, while his screenplay is the other. The script is sporadic and all over the place, which creates a huge problem for the film. It feels like there’s two separate movies fighting to be front and center, while they end up cannibalizing each other in the process. While the love story between Beverly and Peter seems to be the story that we’re supposed to really connect with, it’s completely lost in the second half of the film, in which the supernatural elements seem to really kick into high gear. The problem is, the world that’s created doesn’t seem to lend itself to that supernatural side, and it honestly just feels out of place. There’s just too much going on for the film’s good, and Goldsman’s amateurish direction doesn’t help, because he never seems to balance it all in a way that it feels believable. The other problem is, Goldsman doesn’t seem to fit naturally behind the camera. While he nails the smaller character moments in the film, the few action moments are all handled in a very lackluster fashion. Thankfully, there’s enough of those moments between a few of the characters to give the movie some moments of greatness, but it’s not enough to take the movie higher than that. Because there’s no balance, it’s easy for the movie to lose the audience, which happens too frequently here.
Thankfully, with those problems aside, Colin Farrell actually manages to be quite good with what he works with as Peter Lake. He’s actually great in the lead, giving a very enjoyable performance. He does so well, making Lake incredibly likable, and making him feel human. If it wasn’t for Farrell’s performance, the film would suffer a lot more than it does. The film rests firmly on his shoulders, and no one else. Jessica Brown Findlay is very likable as Beverly, making you care about her more than you’d think you could. The scenes she shares with Farrell are all good, and the two have wonderful chemistry. It’s just too bad their story is so riddled with cliches that you know exactly where it’s going to go. Crowe seems almost too over the top as Pearly, doing his best mustache twirling villain that he can muster, but it just comes off as too much. His best scenes are actually the ones between his character and Will Smith, who plays Lucifer in the film. They share two scenes, and they’re two of the best scenes in the film. Smith is quite good as well, with his little screen time, but it’s too bad he doesn’t have more to do. His presence could have given the film some extra power, pushing it over mediocre. Much like Jennifer Connelly, who seems to be a name for the sake of name, because her character has very little to do or say. It’s too bad, because so much of the cast feels wasted, which is how it shouldn’t be. When you have this many talented people in a film, there’s no reason a movie should turn out as disappointing as it is.
‘Winter’s Tale’ is a severely disappointing film. While it’s not a train wreck, it’s far from great, simply because Goldsman wasn’t ready to be behind the camera. His lack of understanding in direction really hurts the film, when this should be a film that works better. He isn’t able to balance the real world and the fantasy enough to make us believe it, and other than Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay, the rest of the cast is basically wasted. Mix that together with a haphazardly put together script, and you end up with a film that feels cobbled together. It’s too bad, because this should be a movie that works much better than it does. There are moments of greatness, but not enough to elevate it higher than mediocracy.