Sunday, 16 February 2014

Winter's Tale

In 2001, Akiva Goldsman produced an adapted screenplay for the much-revered spectacle that was A Beautiful Mind. Enthralling, riveting and procuring a league of impressive performances from its cast - the film went on to win Goldsman his first Academy Award for his work on the adaptation. Imagine my disappointment then when Goldsman's directorial debut failed in every aspect that A Beautiful Mind thrived in. Both films were rich of ideas and sentiments but where A Beautiful Mind neared perfection in its masterful plot cues, Winter's Tale is kept barely alive with an air of artificiality and sordid disappointment. However, Winter's Tale is "impossibly beautiful" to look at. The cinematography is a fine tribute to how far, technologically, the world of film has come.   

Set completely in a time space of New York winters, A Winter's Tale depicts the attraction between an orphan thief who lives above Grand Central Station, Peter Lake (Colin Farrel) and a young heiress with an affliction. Their chance meeting occurs when Peter attempts to break into Beverly Penn's (Jessica Brown Findlay) home. The film encompasses ongoing themes of miracles, of light and darkness and of angels and demons.     

Falling into a similar trap as fantasy epics Cloud Atlas and Upside Down once did, Winter's Tale tries for too much and comes back with too little. The first half of the film is admittedly - a visual delight. The film works the interesting theme of light so that it creatively connects its visual component to that of its thematic component. The narration provided by Beverly Penn is at times charming but hardly sensical - more a pretty scatter of meaningless words, not unlike that to be found in a similar narration provided in The Book Thief. The choice to have Jessica Brown Findlay as the narrator is an understandable one - the husky quality of her voice is comparable to that of Scarlett Johansson's. 
Winter's Tale is also a film widely advertised to be one that operates in two time frames: one of the early 1900s and the second of modern 21st century. I find that films which progress from earlier eras to modern times often lose some of their magic. The fantasy premise of the film seemed more believable in a foreign time era and was made to look somewhat ridiculous and implausible in the modern light. If done well and blended to retain some of its mysterious grandeur, such period films can and do succeed. But Winter's Tale's attempt is petty and it seems no effort was made to appropriate the supernatural elements to the time setting.   

As my #1 most anticipated film of the year, I hoped that it would provide some worthy excuse to marvel and praise the simple beauties of the film. There are moments that could have saved the film but they were short and stood on wobbly foundations of an unjustified premise. Jessica Brown Findlay's appearance in the film is one of its redeeming features. 
Charming and subtle, she illuminates the screen, as she did with her electric performance in the drama flick Albatross and her familiar loveable characterisation of Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey. Colin Farrel, of course, carried the same easy charm as he did with his performance as the title character of the much favourable Saving Mr Banks. 

What I did find to be the greatest marvel of the film is the portrayal of Beverly's sickness. She is said to have "the fever" where her body temperature is at a constant unnatural high. She sleeps in tents on roof tops and bathes in fountains of ice cold water, she melts the snow at her feet as she walks barefoot and measures her temperature by pressing her hot hand against mirrors.  The work of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Patriot, The Passion of the Christ) is something of an achievement. He played with the simple idea of light being a medium for fate and made it not necessarily believable, but wonderful. The screen is often illuminated by lines of light and as a viewer I could not help but rejoice in the quiet spectacle. For me it appealed to a childish whim for the pretty. But I can not say that I walked away from the cinema with much more than that. For one, both Russell Crowe and Will Smith were hopelessly miscast and provided laughable performances of two unintentionally laughable characters. Russell Crowe is something of a great actor - he played the villain somewhat well in Les Misérables which is more than I can say for what he did for his demonic character in Winter's Tale. 

If I were to describe Winter's Tale in two words - it would be "abandoned potential". The director had an incredible story on his hands, but too many shortcuts in the form of borrowed sickly sentiment and a poor screenplay, made a legendary novel seem a far-fetched concept. 


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