The movie is nuts, and rarely in the good kind of way. Part religious fable, part fantasy, part children's story and all kooky, WINTER'S TALE marks the directing debut from Oscar-winning writer Akiva Goldsman (who has adapted such source material as A TIME TO KILL; A BEAUTIFUL MIND; I, ROBOT; I AM LEGEND; and the Dan Brown books THE DA VINCI CODE and ANGELS & DEMONS, which is the only explanation why there are so many big-name actors in the cast (at least one major actor appears uncredited, and if you ruin the surprise for yourself or anyone else, you're an asshole).
This funny farm of a film also features talk of miracles, a winged white horse, a Sleeping Beauty-style bed meant for a dying girl to be placed on and kissed by a prince, a baby in a tiny tall ship, Satan, demons, angels, dead souls becoming stars (as opposed to going to heaven), and perhaps the most incredible detail of all—a newspaper editor who is well over 100 years old. Adapted by Goldsman from a book by Mark Helprin, WINTER'S TALE is the story of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a floppy-haired thief living and stealing in New York City, circa the early 1900s. He gets into trouble with his boss, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who everybody apparently knows and accepts is a demon working for Lucifer.
When Peter crosses Pearly, he escapes from his boss' thugs by hopping on a white horse, who just happens to grow wings when it needs to. To make a little money, Peter decides to do a little stealing before he leaves town, and the horse leads him to the home of newspaper editor Isaac Penn (William Hurt—this is not the 100-year-plus-old editor I spoke of earlier), whose oldest daughter, Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay, formerly Lady Sybil on "Downton Abbey"), is dying of consumption. Naturally, the two fall madly in love with each other instantly.
For reasons I'm not quite clear on, apparently Peter has the ability to grant one miracle to someone, and it's Pearly's job to stop it from happening (I guess he earns points with the devil if he does). He thinks it's his job to stop Beverly from dying, but she dies anyway. Peter is captured by Pearly's men, he gets tossed in the Hudson, and is believed to be dead. Instead, he crawls out of the water with no memory of who he is and what happened to him, and simply drifts around the city for 100 years, never aging. (we're spared that little piece of his life). If anyone who dares an attempt at making sense of this film can tell me why the amnesia portion of the film is important (or even necessary), you're a better person that I am.
In 2014, Peter meets food writer Virginia (Jennifer Connelly) and her ailing daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo), and she helps the aimless man rediscover where he came from and how he ended up in their life. There is a lot in this film that people just take for granted or don't question. A flying horse is interesting, but no one seems especially amazed by it. The fact that Peter hasn't aged in 100 years barely phases Virginia three seconds after she figures it out. There's a barely touched piece of Peter's life about growing up in a small room in the ceiling of Grand Central Station that barely registers with anyone. Again, I have to wonder, if you're not going to make more of a deal about these details, why include them?
I'm fairly certain that Goldsman was attempting some form of magical realism here, but I can't imagine any younger people being impressed about this grim, overlong, sometimes-violent story. Even the iconography seems confusing and muddled as spirit animals cross paths with demons in the context of a fairy tale. Perhaps the idea was to say that all miraculous things—good or bad—come from the same place, but at about the halfway point of this new-age gobbledygook, I stopped giving a shit. Farrell does his best to convey a sense of wonder at the life he gets to lead, but there's only so much whimsy one can muster when he clearly has no idea what's going on around him. Crowe's scarred Pearly is about as menacing as a Looney Tunes villain, and not nearly as cleverly realized. And as for the actor playing Lucifer, well, at least he had a day of fun shooting that.
Toss in random appearances by Graham Greene, Eva Marie Saint and a few others, and you've got... a big mess of a movie that isn't even the interesting kind of crazy. I honestly can't believe anyone in this film read this screenplay for WINTER'S TALE and agreed to appear in it as anything more than a favor to the esteemed Goldsman. If you do decide to check it out, be prepared to go partially bald from all of the head scratching and hair pulling you'll do.