Film review: A New York Winter’s Tale (12A, 118 min)

Never mind the Pollux, this star is a faller

Saturday, 22nd February 2014, 6:00 am
A New York Winter's Tale: Jennifer Connelly
A New York Winter's Tale: Jennifer Connelly

Love never dies. Nor do stories of good versus evil, screenwriters with a burning desire to sit in the director’s chair or high-profile actors with a dubious ear for Oirish accents.

We’re treated to all three plus Will Smith as the human manifestation of Lucifer and a white horse with wings in the fantastical romance, A New York Winter’s Tale.

Akiva Goldman’s film is based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin but has been re-titled for the UK, presumably to avoid any confusion with Shakespeare’s 17th century problem play.

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In truth, no one is likely to confuse the Bard’s impeccable verse with Goldsman’s shambolic script, which includes such gems as “Nothing seems to break [the human] capacity for hope – they pass it back and forth like flu at a school fair”.

Or when the terminally ill heroine tells her ardent suitor, “If you don’t make love to me right now, nobody ever will,” and he lustily responds, “Then that’s exactly what I’ll do”.

Narrative threads unfold in 1916 and present day Manhattan. In the past, petty thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) breaks into a house and is instantly bewitched by a flame-haired stargazer called Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), who has consumption.

“I’m pulled to her, like air when I’m under water,” Peter swoons to a pal.

So Peter spends every waking minute with Beverly, charms her younger sister Willa (Mckayla Twiggs) and father Isaac (William Hurt), and prepares for a beating from sadistic Irish gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who wants Peter dead and happens to be an earthbound demon on a mission to restore Lucifer (Smith) to power.

Meanwhile, in 2014, Peter (Farrell again) is alive but not so well. He has no memory of the past but is haunted by visions of a girl with red hair.

The quest to repair his fractured memory magically leads him to a newspaper food writer (Jennifer Connolly) and her spunky daughter (Ripley Sobo).

A New York Winter’s Tale has too many elements competing for our attention, and none of them gel.

The titanic battle between angels and demons sits awkwardly with the rose-tinted central romance and the tear-filled histrionics of the final act. Farrell is unremarkable in an undernourished lead role but he does catalyse a handsome screen pairing with Brown Findlay.

Crowe’s accent is a treat, becoming as thick as mud without warning in pivotal scenes.

Finding one word to succinctly sum this disjointed mess seems unlikely but as Goldsman’s film teaches us, the secrets of the universe twinkle in plain sight.

And so it is here: Beverly gazes at the heavens and is bewitched by the constellations that she believes represent the fluttering wings of angels.

“Pollux,” she whispers dreamily.

Everyone’s a critic.

Fantasy/Romance/Action. Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, Will Smith, Jennifer Connolly, Eva Marie Saint, Ripley Sobo, Mckayla Twiggs, Graham Greene. Director: Akiva Goldsman.