I want to start out this review by saying that I am not immune to a well-done romance. This review is going to get ugly, so I want to put it out there that I have zero objection to the genre, and a good romance is definitely in my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, Winter’s Tale, written and directed by Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin, A Beautiful Mind) is not a good romance.
Winter’s Tale features all of the following bad accents (Russell Crowe), inexplicable accents (Colin Farrell), debilitating illnesses (tuberculosis, cancer), a flying horse, and Satan (Will Smith). None of these things, handled well, would bother me (Will Smith is actually the best thing about this film), but because the story is bland, making it feel like the most generic of fairytales, these things just accumulate into a bigger and bigger mess. On top of that, all of the characters are entirely one-dimensional, and the film manages the rare feat of over- and under-explaining plot points.
The film begins with an explanation about something concerning stars and miracles, at the beginning of the 20th Century in New York. Peter Lake (Colin Ferrell) romantically lives above Grand Central Station until a horse tells him to break into the house of a wealthy family. There he meets Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) who invites him to have tea for some reason. She is dying from tuberculosis, and so she takes him with her family up to a small town upstate. Peter is on the run from his former boss, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who is actually a demon. I have no idea if Peter knew this or not, because no one ever brings it up directly. Eventually the story picks up almost 100 years later. Peter Lake has no memory, until he gets it back, because of destiny or something.
Given the critical acclaim the source material has garnered over the years, I am giving the book the benefit of the doubt and just saying that this is a failure of adaptation. Perhaps Goldsman was aiming for a 1970s TV miniseries in the strained, self-serious tone? We will likely never know. Avoid Winter’s Tale at all costs, unless you are looking for a truly terrible film.