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New Release Review - A New York Winter's Tale (aka Winter's Tale)

Fantasy romance set in an alternate reality, angel and demon infested New York.

Directed by: Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, Matt Bomer, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith, Eva Marie Saint




In early twentieth century New York, thief Peter Lake (Farrell) is about to be attacked by a mob, led by Pearly Soames (Crowe), when he is rescued by a magic white horse that rather conveniently possesses the ability to fly. Peter decides it best if he leaves New York but the horse refuses to budge from outside a house, which Peter then decides to break in and plunder. While attempting to crack the home's safe, he discovers Beverly Penn (Findlay), a beautiful young woman suffering from consumption. The two instantly fall for each other and when Soames and his men attempt to kill Beverly, Peter rescues her and the two flee to her father’s upstate home. Soames, a demon, is determined to stop Peter, an angel, from using his one miracle to cure Beverly of her sickness.
Apologies if you’re left scratching your head after that brief plot description, but you’ll be no wiser having seen the film. Winter’s Tale is an absolute mess of a movie, and likely to become Hollywood’s first major box-office casualty of 2014.
When a story is set in a fantasy world like the alternate universe New York here, it’s customary for the storyteller to ease his audience into that world. Akiva Goldsman, a writer responsible for some of the worst Hollywood screenwriting of the last two decades, making his directorial debut here, instead chooses to parachute us into this world like marines on a suicide mission. It’s a world where it seems anything is possible and this is a major storytelling flaw, as it means we never really believe any of the protagonists are in tangible danger. Our hero has his back to the wall facing certain death? No problem, let’s have a horse sprout wings and fly him to safety. Were it not based on a 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, you’d easily believe Goldsman was making all this up as he goes, constantly changing the rules like a spoiled kid desperate not to lose a board game. 
Attempting to get to grips with the film's narrative is likely to leave you with a prolonged migraine and you’ll find yourself asking a lot of questions of the film. Questions like, why do lifelong New Yorkers (and in this case “lifelong” equates to well over a century) speak in dodgy Oirish accents? How can a 110 year old newspaper owner look a 70 year old Eva Marie Saint? And if Findlay is at death's door, suffering from fatal consumption, how does she look so damn healthy, not to mention stunningly attractive? 
Goldsman’s script has more loose threads than the coat racks at your local charity shop. None of the characters ever seem remotely surprised at the discovery that horses can fly or Irish scallywags can live for centuries without aging. In present day New York, Jennifer Connelly’s reaction to learning Farrell still looks as good now as in 1914 is to invite him round to her place for a chicken dinner.
Somehow integral to the story is some guff about the magical power of light that when activated, fills the screen with lens flare, as though JJ Abrams momentarily commandeered the director’s chair. There’s a cameo from Will Smith as the devil himself, an appearance that’s been kept hushed up in the film’s marketing, no doubt at the insistence of Smith’s agent. And I can’t fail to acknowledge the film’s best performance, courtesy of a horse that’s really a dog. It must be said, the horse does quite a good impression of a dog, though not as convincing as the overall film’s rendition of a turkey.
For some reason, Winter’s Tale is being released under the moniker A New York Winter’s Tale in most non US territories. New York’s having a tough enough winter as things are; the city doesn’t need the further indignity of this association.
2/10


Eric Hillis

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