With Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly. Written and directed by Akiva Goldsman. Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. 118 minutes.
With WINTER’S TALE, Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel finally comes to the screen with love and care from writer Akiva Goldsman making his big screen directing debut. It is a delicate romantic fantasy that requires that you willingly suspend your disbelief and give yourself over to it. Cynics need not apply.
In early 20th century New York, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is on the run. He’s a thief and a charmer, but he’s had a falling out with his boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who had treated him like the son he never had. Now Pearly wants him dead, and is willing to go to any lengths to get what he wants. As slowly becomes clear, Pearly’s powers are a bit beyond the ordinary but then Peter discovers he has access to some unusual forces of his own.
One wintry night, Peter breaks into the Manhattan mansion of newspaper publisher Isaac Penn (William Hurt). The family has left for their vacation home upstate, but their eldest Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) has remained behind. You may be skeptical that the consumptive Beverly and rascally Peter would fall in love, but if so then you probably have no romance in your soul. When Pearly learns of this he decides he’s going to use Beverly to get to and crush Peter.
To tell you any more of the plot would be to rob you of the sense of discovery (and incur the wrath of the spoiler police). As it unfolds, we discover that both miracles and evil are possible in the world, and that each person’s mission in life is to discover what he or she was meant to do. The story takes several surprising turns, one of which the skeptics may point out as a flaw because Goldsman’s math was off when he moved the present day part of the story to 2014. If you’re invested in the story by that point, you won’t even notice or care.
Goldsman, who won the Oscar for his screenplay of “A Beautiful Mind,” has an affinity for the fantastic, having also written the scripts for “I Am Legend” and “I, Robot” and directed several episodes of “Fringe.” His direction here is of a piece with the story: everything is natural and normal… until it isn’t. The fantasy elements are used sparingly and effectively, putting the film on a select list along with “The Enchanted Cottage” (1945) and “Somewhere in Time” (1980). If the love story seems real, you accept everything else.
Goldsman has a solid cast, several of whom he’s worked with before, including Russell Crowe, William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly. Colin Farrell plays the thief who finds his purpose with great passion and, as an actor, remains an underutilized resource. Jessica Brown Findlay may be best known to fans of “Downton Abbey,” and plays the most beautiful love interest with a fatal disease since Ali MacGraw in “Love Story.” They both seemed to have realized how delicate the material is and do nothing to undercut it.
There are several romances vying for your movie dollar this (and every) Valentine’s Day weekend. Two are remakes. (No, not “Robocop,” which is a remake and opening this week but hardly a romance.) Then there’s “Winter’s Tale,” which is truly one from the heart.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.