A New York Winter’s Tale
Film Title: A NEW YORK WINTER'S TALE
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly
Running Time: 118 min
We’ve had this conversation too many times. If there is one genre of fiction that almost never translates successfully to film, it is magic realism. What seems fantastic on the page all too often seems fantastically idiotic on screen. Once you actually see a man turn into a crocodile, all the intended allegorical resonances wither into mundane hocus pocus.
Mark Helprin’s huge 1983 novel Winter’s Tale – much more successful in the US than overseas – didn’t squeeze all its corners into the magic realist corral. But horses fly, the devil stalks the sewers and (in the film version, anyway) our own Colin Farrell has become eternal. Once again, the cinema renders most of this utterly ridiculous.
The directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman, Oscar-winning writer of A Beautiful Mind , this misguided film whittles away many of the wilder episodes in Helprin’s book to leave us with the story of Peter Lake (gallant Farrell), a charming thief, who falls in love with a gravely ill uptown girl (Jessica Brown Findlay from Downton Abbey ).
Set mostly in an altered version of 1916 Manhattan, the film also manages to accommodate a closing contemporary episode that finds Peter, unchanged but amnesiac, trying to piece together the shards of his former life. Eva Marie Saint makes a welcome appearance as a newspaper editor. Jennifer Connolly is on hand as a kindly woman with a sick daughter. Russell Crowe, playing a satanic hoodlum, offers one of the worst Irish accents in cinema history. Will Smith is ludicrous as a hip Lucifer.
Those last two disasters aside, everyone does his or her best with the doomed material. The film is carried off with bland chocolate-box competence, and the end result looks less like a philosophical epic than one of those seemingly endless cable-TV reimaginings of Beauty and the Beast . A fine book fights gallantly to escape from its straitjacket, but eventually lies down and allows itself to be trampled underfoot by bad ideas.
We really don’t want to have this conversation again.