Review: Winter’s Tale

There is no way I am going to be able to talk about this movie without getting into spoilers. So if you just want to know if it’s good or not, trust me: if you avoid only one movie this Valentine’s Day, make sure it’s Winter’s Tale.

Alright, you have been warned.

Winter’s Tale is one of those pain-in-the-ass movies that’s impossible to describe without making it sound more interesting than it actually is. Get this: I watched Russell Crowe headbutt someone over and over again until they got amnesia, and it was still boring. I watched the Tristar logo ground-pound 20 mafiosos into a frozen lake, and it was still boring. I watched someone get fucked to death – to death, I tell you – and it was still really, really, really boring.

Winter’s Tale is a fantasy romance, so in theory it should be romantic and worth fantasizing about. But although writer/director Akiva Goldsman, adapting a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, understands that he needs to incorporate magic, realism and magical realism into his movie, he fails on every single level. The magic is banal and overexplained. The reality is dispassionate and artificial. The magical realism is mostly confined to the embarrassing conceit that lens flares represent all that is good in this world, and no, that is not an exaggeration.

Winter’s Tale, no relation to the Shakespeare play, tells the story of a turn of the century thief (Colin Farrell), the consumptive woman he falls in love with (Jessica Brown Findlay), and the demon who conspires to destroy their union (Russell Crowe). It is also the story of that same thief nearly 100 years later, suffering from amnesia and trying to set things right through the careful application of his miracle. Every human being gets one miracle, according to Winter’s Tale. If only Akiva Goldsman had used his miracle to make Winter’s Tale a watchable film.

The ongoing joke is that Goldsman wrote the infamous misfire Batman & Robin – a stigma that has followed him for nearly 20 years – and therefore he must be some sort of talentless hack. (His screenplays for Lost in Space and The Da Vinci Code didn’t help either.) Although he’s written some good movies too – Silent Fall, A Time to Kill, Cinderella Man – and won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind (meh), one imagines that it must frustrate him to be incessantly associated with a debacle like Batman & Robin, and that he had hoped his directorial debut would erase or at least overshadow that ugly memory in the minds of both audiences and critics alike, because this time he would be in control, and this time he would make sure his work reached the screen in exactly the right way.

But Winter’s Tale is worse than Batman & Robin, and this time Akiva Goldsman doesn’t have the excuse of “I only wrote the screenplay.” Batman & Robin at least moved quickly from one stupid idea to the next. Winter’s Tale ponderously shuffles its feet between plot points, trusting that the contrived romance would be interpreted as wondrous because gosh darned it, the movie says it is, and repeatedly. Never mind that there is no actual evidence to support that claim.

And when the ridiculous plot points do transpire – like a finale that thinks adding a penis to the constellation Orion is the height of romance – Goldsman approaches it the same way he does everything else, by trusting the dialogue to tell us what’s important and resisting any temptation to engage in proper showmanship. The nipples on the batsuit were laughable, but Colin Farrell’s haircut in Winter’s Tale is a cruel joke made by someone who either really dislikes him, or who has no idea how to make a fantasy movie in which the deviations from reality serve an actual purpose.

There is no romance in Winter’s Tale except that the movie thinks there is. There is no entertainment unless you count desperately trying to figure out what the hell just happened. The cast all acts like they had no faith in the material but were tired of owing Akiva Goldsman a favor. It’s incredible how much effort went into making a motion picture that looks like no one gave a damn about it. Winter’s Tale is one of the worst romances in years.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.