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“What if the war between darkness and light
Decided if stars would fluoresce in the night?
What if a thief and a horse snowy white
Could save an enigma at destiny’s tasking?

“What if, when angels and demons do spar,
They fight for the miracles human souls are?
What if we die and become a new star?”
“Quite simply, we don’t, silly girl, so stop asking!”

Akiva Goldsman has had a mixed career; he did win an Oscar for his screenplay for A Beautiful Mind, but that was after also writing Batman and Robin. His directorial debut Winter’s Tale plays to both his strengths and weaknesses, with a story that is sometimes fancifully rich but also stumbles in trying to sustain that richness.

Winter’s Tale is an unusual blend of real-world romance and parallel fantasy. On the human side, the story follows Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a thief who falls in love with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). In 1916, she is dying of tuberculosis and has some odd opinions about the afterlife. On the fantastical side, a mobster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) is really an undercover demon who wants Peter dead and is part of a covert “dark side” intent on preventing humans from fulfilling their inner miracles and becoming stars. Apparently in this story, Beverly’s beliefs are correct, though there’s no indication of how she learned about the whole romantic “star” mumbo jumbo, nor why this version of New York City has angels and demons but no sign of traditional religion, nor why it is ostensibly the real world but no one seems to have noticed flying horses or men who don’t age.

As the story progressed, I was unsure where it was going, though I was more confused than intrigued. Still, now that I understand the full picture, I believe Winter’s Tale is a worthwhile story that unfortunately loses its way. I admire its themes of hope and good triumphing over evil, as well as the message that our destiny is rarely what we expect. The period setting and intermittent effects are also well-crafted for the most part, and I found the acting quite good, especially Crowe as the snarling villain.

Yet it’s hard to ignore its weaknesses, particularly the gushingly romantic, sometimes poetic dialogue about stars and the universe, which stand in for heaven and God, respectively. In addition, one of my complaints about The Notebook was that Ryan Gosling is reduced to a lovesick recluse without his sweetheart and for far too long. Here, that weakness is extended for decades with no end in sight, a state that our hero accepts with little to no change.

Winter’s Tale has merit but not enough of it to make it a must-see, even for fantasy fans. Some aspects surprisingly work (such as Will Smith’s cameo as the devil), but others are just hard to believe (such as the flying horse who is really a dog who is really an angel. Huh?). I would see it again, but I wouldn’t seek it out.

Best line: (Beverly Penn, in an instance where her voiceover rings true) “But be warned: as we seek out the light, darkness gathers and the eternal contest between good and evil is not fought with great armies… but one life at a time.”

Rank: Honorable Mention

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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