Synopsis: A burglar falls for an heiress as she dies in his arms. When he learns that he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her
Stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Russell Crowe, Ripley Sobo, Mckayla Twiggs
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Running Length: 118 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Oscar nominated director Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Cape Fear) isn’t known to shy away from many projects. This is a man, after all, that took a novel like Shutter Island which was considered to be impossible to adapt for the screen and made a perfectly good (if strikingly literal) thriller out of it. So you should pay attention when you hear that Scorsese flirted briefly with bringing Winter’s Tale, Mark Helperin’s 1983 fantasy novel, to life only to abandon the project because he couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.
The project then fell into the hands of Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar winning screenwriter of A Beautiful Mind who took on the work as a passion project. Laboring for years to have his screenplay produced, he finally found himself in the director’s chair surrounding by a fairly impressive cast and a celebrated production team. How, then, can the final product be so remarkably terrible?
Well…I’ll direct you back to Mr. Scorsese who had the correct premonition that this time jumping epic love story wasn’t destined to be captured on film. It existed best in the yellowing pages of paperback copies of Helperin’s novel stuffed away on bookshelves waiting for their owners to thumb through them in the doldrums of these wintery months.
My experience with the book is limited, having paged through it a few times over the years but never being sucked in by its storied charms. It’s essentially a bit of romantic whimsy with prose that helped inspire some imagination of the people, places, and flights of fancy Helperin laid out. I can’t speak to how close Goldsman’s adaptation sticks to the source but I know that something was absolutely lost in translation.
Opening with a prologue filmed in lovely sepia tones by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (Killer Joe, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Jack Reacher), the story begins in the late 19th century with Polish immigrants denied entrance to America who wind up lowering their infant son in a model boat in the hopes that the harsh waters will see him safely to the shores of New York. Ah…the American Dream! Flash forward years later and the orphaned boy is now Peter Lake (Colin Farrell, Saving Mr. Banks, Dead Man Down), a burglar on the wrong side of gangster and former father figure Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables, Man of Steel) ready to make an escape out of the city.
Before he can reach the city limits, however, he happens to make one last burglary in the stately Penn home where he meets Beverly (Jessica Brown-Findlay, Downton Abbey), a doomed beauty suffering from consumption with a fever so bad she sleeps on the wintery roof to keep her temperature down. Love blooms (not naturally because Farrell and Brown-Findlay have precious little chemistry) and soon Peter and Beverly are overcome with passion that leads to a bad end. Oh…did I mention the film has angels, demons, flying horses, and mythical prophecies? Well…there’s that too.
I’m giving you more of the plot than I normally would because it helps set the stage for the next act of the film which takes such a peculiar leap forward that you wonder if you aren’t watching a three part mini-series that forgot to include the second installment. So much of the film takes place in establishing the past that next to no time is left to explore anything in present day New York. The third act is comprised then of extraordinary coincidences, unexplained lapses in continuity, and half-developed characters (like the one poor Jennifer Connelly is stuck with) culminating in a cornball ending more laughable than the emotionally resonant one the filmmakers intended.
Farrell makes for an engaging lead, though his lack of chemistry with his leading lady and the oddity of his American born/raised character having a perfect Irish accent leaves more of a lasting impression than any good will his commitment earns him. Crowe is particularly terrible here with his awful leprechaun-y brogue…his scenes with a surprise cameo (and equally atrocious) star is sure to haunt him in years to come. Brown-Findlay doesn’t leave much of an impression aside from the realization that her narration of the film is better than her onscreen performance. William Hurt (The Host), Connelly (who will also do time with Crowe soon in Noah), and Eva Marie Saint (make sure to do the math of her screen age when she shows up and see if you cry foul) round out the players.
Running close to two hours I will say that as banal as the film is, it managed to move along with a nice clip. Goldsman rallies the production design to create a handsome looking film (even with one of the worst Hans Zimmer scores ever) though he lets the whole schmaltzy mess get away from him almost from the start. If you’re thinking of catching this with a loved one, I’d suggest taking a walk around the block holding hands instead.