Winter’s Tale would seem to have it all for a movie released in the bleak midwinter, when audiences are ready to get out of the house and be entertained. It combines elements of fantasy and romance with sentimental, emotion-wringing moments that should work nicely for the post-Valentine’s Day couples crowd, at least in theory. The visual scope is lovely, and it also has a talented stable of actors in Colin Farrell, Will Smith, Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe. Unfortunately, the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.

If you know anything about this movie, you know it’s a time travel story. Alas, that works against it because it jumps around in a confusing manner. Time travel requires some suspension of disbelief, but Winter’s Tale takes believability and tosses it far down into the abyss.

Confusing Even For a Fantasy

You know right away it’s a fantasy when thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) escapes from gangster boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) on the back of a magical Pegasus-like horse that becomes his accomplice for the rest of the movie. He was sent ashore of America by his immigrant parents in a very Moses-like way, and now he’s involved with a crime lord who’s quite literally a demon to work for.

While fleeing, he meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) while trying to rob her Fifth Avenue apartment, and the two fall in love. Add in the fact that Penn is dying of tuberculosis for added emotional effect. After the romance is built up enough for us to care what happens to the characters, we’re jarringly returned to the present day. We find out a little secret about Soames, who’s been seeking revenge on Lake ever since the escape.

The movie weaves in the eternal battle between good and evil, with Will Smith as a satanic being known as “Judge,” and the war between angels and demons. Somehow this age-old battle doesn’t mesh in any satisfying way, either on a Christian or New Age level.

Time Travel Mishmash

The love story is the best thing about this movie, but it’s not quite enough to carry things across multiple time periods and confusing intertwined plots with elements that are never fully explained. For example, we have Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly), a reporter who wants to help Lake in the present and who is also dealing with a young daughter dying of cancer. Unfortunately, we’re not really clear how he got transported there after being dropped off a bridge, why he hasn’t aged, and why he’s lost his memory.

By the end of the movie, it takes a voice over to remind the audience that we’re all part of a cosmic plan that we might understand someday. If you’re a Christian, you know that’s true, but in the movie it comes across as a New Age mishmash that is more confusing than satisfying.

There is one good thing about Winter’s Tale, and that’s its cinematic scope. The New York settings are as much of a star as the actors who gamely try to pull off the film. Unfortunately, the visuals are interrupted by annoying lens flare transitions at various points.

Disappointing Book Adaptation

If you’re familiar with the book from which the movie was adapted, you’ll know the inherent challenges in bringing Mark Helprin’s material to the screen. Some adaptations are adequate, and some, like Shawshank Redemption, which many people don’t even realize was adapted from a Stephen King story, gain even more power and majesty on film. Alas, Winter’s Tale isn’t likely to please fans of the novel, nor will it captivate those in the audience who don’t even know it’s an adaptation. 

If you’re looking for a romantic film that travels across time, you’ll be better off renting the classic Somewhere in Time. This movie could have reached that level, but sadly, it doesn’t even get close.

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