Review: Winter’s Tale


The poster for Winter’s Tale proudly declares that the film is not a true story. And brother, they couldn’t be more right.

Of all the words one could use to describe Winter’s Tale, “true” is certainly not one of them. “Nonsensical” might be a better choice. Maybe “stupefyingly inane” or “has a scene where Russell Crowe literally draws a picture of a girl with blood.” Take your pick!

Winter's Tale - Official Trailer [HD]

Winter’s Tale
Director: Akira Goldsman
Release Date: February 14th, 2014
Rating: PG-13 

Winter’s Tale certainly does not open the way one would expect. Oh, the ponderous, laugh-inducing narration about miracles and love delivered in the flattest of monotones is about par for the course, but that’s only the very first scene. Within seconds, the audience is introduced to a world of demons and magic space horses.

This is not the movie I expected, you guys.

The whole affair begins in 1900s-era New York City, with thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) escaping from demon/gangster/Irishman Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) with the assistance of aforementioned magic space horse. On Lake’s way out of town, the horse convinces him (seriously) to rob one last mansion. Inside, he meets the lovely Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay, who I guess was on Downton Abbey?), who is dying of tuberculosis. They fall in love almost immediately, and Lake starts making plans to stick it up her.

So far, this seems fairly straightforward. Period piece, romanticization of literally everything on the planet, doomed love, the actual Biblical Satan played by Will Smith. You know, the usual Valentine’s Day fare.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the whole Lucifer thing.

Apparently, the love between Peter and Beverly angers Demon Russell Crowe, so he uses human blood to paint a picture of Beverly (seriously) before trying to stab her in the gut. You see — and bear with me while I try and figure this out, the movie isn’t totally clear on this — each person has a “Miracle” they can impart on another human being. And the forces of Hell are very anti-miracle. As Crowe says, “I’ve been crushing miracles for longer than I can remember.”

Demon Russell Crowe has a vendetta against Peter Lake because Lake was once part of Crowe’s gang and thought not murdering people was the right way to go about life. So of course, Demon Russell Crowe takes it upon himself to make sure this miracle is crushed right before he murders Lake.

To go any further would spoil a good amount of the best surprises Winter’s Tale has to offer. This is a film stuffed to the brim with visuals, lines of dialogue, and plot points that no sane person should have approved, and yet they’re right there! For everyone to see, in this big-budget movie released in cinemas!

And yet… I absolutely loved Winter’s Tale, in the same way I “love” Birdemic: Shock and Terror or The Room. I can say with absolute certainty that I have found a new classic bad movie to pull out when my friends are in the mood for an unintentional comedy.

Perhaps the best reason to go see Winter’s Tale is Russell Crowe. The reason this movie uses so much greenscreen is because around the second act, there was no more scenery to use. Ol’ Russ had eaten it all. Just about everyone in Winter’s Tale is doing their best — especially Will Smith — but only Crowe seems to be having any fun. And believe me, it shows.

It’s only February, but I feel confident in calling Pearly Soames one of the year’s funniest characters. He’s twitchy, pompous, and delightfully over-the-top. It’s also hard to imagine anyone other than Russell Crowe portraying this face-splitting Irishman. He embodies this role so well, but I have to imagine that comes from a place of trying to do something interesting with an otherwise forgettable villain.

Farrell and Brown Findlay, on the other hand, aren’t exactly phoning this one in, but they add very little to the material. Lines like “Is it possible to love someone so much that they simply can’t die?” are tripe, plain and simple. It’s a shame that both actors play the material straight.

Beverly’s father (William Hurt) does not play the material straight. In fact, one might say he does not play the material in any direction, choosing instead to sleepwalk through the entire picture. His tone…well, it’s almost like he’s editing the dialogue as he says it. Hurt barks “What are your intentions with my daughter?” without any real emotion. I half expected him to follow that line up with “What the hell kind of dialogue is this? This isn’t period work, it’s just garbage. Cut it. Cut it, and when you’re done cutting, get my agent on the line. Between this and The Host, I think it’s time to find a new goddamn representative.”

That’s just my interpretation, anyway.

The effects are terrible, but it’s hard to notice when you’re laughing so hard. Remember that magic horse I mentioned earlier? There’s a scene where it flies through present-day Manhattan with some of the worst greenscreen I’ve seen in my life. But it’s a magic horse flying through present-day Manhattan while black sedans manned by Russell Crowe’s Demon Stockbrokers (seriously!!!) give chase. I only noticed the poor effects towards the end of the sequence, as my laughter subsided.

Some of my most beloved film memories revolve around terrible movies, like the offensively low-budget yet dead serious The Amazing Bulk. Watching that fifty-car pileup with my family & friends was an utter delight; one I won’t forget any time soon.

I don’t think Winter’s Tale is quite in the same canon as an Amazing Bulk or a Birdemic. But this flick is perfect for the kind of bad movie nights that spawn excellent, lasting inside jokes between good friends. Winter’s Tale is a god-awful love story, but it’ll bring you closer to the people you love. And isn’t that what going to the movies is really all about?

No? Ahh, whatever. It’s still hilarious.

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