Wednesday, April 23, 2014

‘Winter’s Tale’: A crisp, sparkling fantasy

From page A9 | February 14, 2014 | Leave Comment

“Winter’s Tale”
Four stars
Starring: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jessica Brown Findlay, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Mckayla Twiggs, Eva Marie Saint and one notable surprise
Rating: PG-13, for violence and sensuality

Mark Helprin’s popular book gets a lavish big-screen treatment

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s novels, particularly “Neverwhere” and “Stardust,” will adore this film.

Director/scripter Akiva Goldsman’s luxuriously romantic fantasy offers the same mythic qualities: a setting that’s familiar yet not quite of this world; an incandescent yet oddly witty love story; and mortal characters — of a sort — caught within a timeless duel between agents of good and evil.

It’s such an odd concoction that one false move — a single line of dialogue too precious, delivered with perhaps too much smug arrogance — and the entire narrative would collapse under the weight of its own contrivance. And yet Goldsman unerringly walks that fine line, delivering a warm, gently humorous and richly poignant adaptation of Mark Helprin’s massive 1983 novel.

Indeed, the first miracle is that Goldsman has captured this huge book’s essence in a film that runs a mere 118 minutes. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given his Academy Award victory for adapting “A Beautiful Mind,” and his obvious fondness for historical dramas (“Cinderella Man”) and speculative fiction (“The Da Vinci Code,” “I Am Legend”).

I frankly hesitate to describe this plot to even a minor degree, because while not a mystery per se, “Winter’s Tale” derives much of its charm from the many revelations — major and minor — that emerge along the way. Indeed, even the casting offers surprises, all of them pleasant.

Our most unusual protagonist is Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), an orphan with an unusual origin, having arrived in late 19th century New York under quite unlikely circumstances. This is, in fact, the film’s core test: One must accept this startling, almost biblical introduction as a foreshadowing of the storytelling style to come. Having allowed this near-impossible weave of otherworldly thread, the resulting tapestry will be much easier to snuggle into.

Peter grows up poor and uneducated — a skilled thief who also possesses “a way with machines” — and lives on the streets until taken under the wing of a Fagin-like protector, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). We catch up with these two in 1916, with Peter on the run after some sort of falling out; the furious Soames and his men are hell-bent on cornering and then killing their prey … slowly and painfully.

Let it be said: Few can top Crowe’s depiction of cold, malevolent fury. His Pearly is the stuff of nightmares. In more ways than one.

Peter is rescued, at the last possible second, by a white horse that appears quite unexpectedly … and has a facility for astonishing jumps.

Knowing he must flee the city, Peter and his new equine companion pause long enough for a few second-story jobs, in order to finance the necessary escape. The horse, clearly possessing an agenda, points Peter toward his final target: a stately mansion whose occupants can be seen departing for some sort of lengthy trip.

But not all of them. Unbeknownst to Peter, a young woman has remained behind. This is Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), dying of a particularly nasty strain of consumption; she quells her frequent fevers, and in fact has prolonged her life, by sleeping outdoors atop the mansion, cooling her fragile body and breathing the crisp winter air while sheltered by a Moroccan-style tent.

They bump into each other; Beverly, with the calm wisdom of the terminally ill, sees nothing to fear from Peter. He, in turn, is captivated by her radiance, as if impending death has transformed her, supernova-like, into the best possible version of herself before darkness claims her.

Once again, everything is crucial in this scene, and Goldsman — making an impressive big-screen directing debut — draws rich and expressive performances from his stars. They’re a perfect match: Farrell’s aw-shucks Irish charm marvelously complemented by Findlay’s genteel British vulnerability.

The relationship kindles and ignites, for however long it can last. Peter is embraced warily by Beverly’s father, Isaac (William Hurt), and warmly by her younger sister, Willa (Mckayla Twiggs). The latter, desperate for her sister to survive, has concocted an improbable fantasy derived from “Sleeping Beauty,” involving a princess’ bed in the family arboretum, and the magic created by a kiss borne of true, undying love.

If only it were that simple.

Elsewhere, chafing over his recent failure, Pearly percolates with raw fury … and seeks a fresh means to find and dispatch Peter, once and for all.

On top of which, the stakes are much higher than one apparently doomed romance would suggest: no less than a sought-for advantage in the eternal celestial struggle between hope and despair, angels and demons.

Pretty heady stuff, all given just the right tone by Goldsman and his production team.

Veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s work is both atmospherically crucial and breathtakingly gorgeous, starting with the way he lights and films Beverly’s diaphanous rooftop tents: a setting with a romantic intensity we’ve not seen since Nicole Kidman’s “elephant house” in “Moulin Rouge.” Light and shadow are their own characters in this parable, and Deschanel rises to the challenge with lovely tableaus, whether moonlit walks in the snow or the stygian darkness inhabited by Pearly’s ageless overseer.

Farrell is ideally cast as the flawed, often puzzled, but willingly love-struck protagonist: a “hero” who hasn’t the faintest comprehension of his role in much greater events. Farrell’s half-smile and mildly amused glances are an intriguing counterpoint to his haunted, often forlorn eyes; his expressions bespeak great sorrow, both endured and freshly anticipated.

Findlay, easily recognized as Lady Sybil Crawley on TV’s “Downton Abbey,” is the effervescent, nonconformist yin to Farrell’s cautiously withdrawn yang. Victorian-era film heroines too frequently display the free-spirited self-possession of a 1960s flower child, which can be a problem; not so here, where we’re willing to forgive Beverly’s willful, self-assured bearing because of her illness … just as her doting father does.

Crowe, as already mentioned, is nightmare incarnate: a figure of consummate evil whose very shadow radiates loathsome menace. We imagine him dining on rats and spiders, or passing the time by pulling the limbs off small furry animals. Crowe’s baleful glare stops our hearts; his feral smiles are even worse.

Hurt is quietly commanding as the worldly Isaac Penn, a man crushed by the knowledge that his vast fortune can’t save those he loves. Young Twiggs is adorable as Willa, who sparkles with the preternatural awareness of a soul far wiser than her years would suggest.

Later in the story, Jennifer Connelly brings considerable warmth as Virginia, a woman with an instinctive sensitivity akin to Beverly’s, who … well, that would be telling.

The sumptuously dreamy score comes from Rupert Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer, who deliver tender undertones or malevolent cadences, as given scenes demand. Editors Tim Squyres and Wayne Wahrman are appropriately restrained; Goldsman clearly understands that quieter, old-style pacing is essential to this story’s atmosphere of magic realism.

Production designer Naomi Shohan recreates early 20th century New York to the last tiny degree, and also does wonderful things with the Penn family’s twin estates.

All this said, there’s no question that some viewers — those who dismiss adult fairy tales with a contemptuous sniff — won’t buy into any of this. “Winter’s Tale” caters to undying romantics who thrive on the heightened emotions raised by carefully structured parables; cynics with hearts of stone need not apply.

For the rest of us, though, Goldsman’s achingly sweet film is a genuine treat.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at Comment on this review at Be sure to join Derrick Sunday evening, when he hosts the final installment of the Classic Film Festival at the Davis Odd Fellows Hall.


Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy



New mosaic mural reflects Peña family history

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

UC Davis biodigester hungers for food scraps

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Penalty decision looms in Winters homicide case

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

Hay bales burn east of Davis

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

Woman killed by train ID’d

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

Pro-Russian insurgents hold journalist captive

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Fire damages Woodland home

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3

Register to vote by May 19

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Sign up for enviro organizations during Earth Week

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Bible fun featured at Parents’ Night Out

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Davis businesswoman presides over conference

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Birch Lane sells garden plants, veggies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Team Blend hosts fundraiser for Nicaragua project

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

Davis Arts Center: See ceramics, join the Big Day of Giving

By Erie Vitiello | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Fire crews gather for joint training

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Odd Fellows host culinary benefit for nonprofit

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

400 bikes go up for bids at UCD auction

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Sunder hosts campaign event for kids

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Church hosts discussion of mental health needs, services

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

UCD to host premiere of autism documentary

By Cory Golden | From Page: A4

UFC hears from two local historians

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Fundraiser benefits Oakley campaign

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

UCD professor to talk about new book

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Fly Fishers talk to focus on healthy streams, rivers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Train to become a weather spotter

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Learn survival skills at Cache Creek Preserve

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Veterans, internees may receive overdue diplomas

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

UC Davis conference showcases undergraduate research

By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Conservation District celebrates its stewardship efforts

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

Slow Food tour showcases area’s young farmers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10



Even a safe house needs boundaries

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

I support Sunder for board

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

Will anyone notice?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

My votes reflect city values

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

A plea on the Bard’s birthday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6



DHS thunders back to win an epic DVC volleyball match

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

DHS/Franklin I goes to the Blue Devil softballers

By Chris Saur | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Davis gets to Grant ace and rolls in DVC crucial

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Walchli is under par in another Devil victory

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Seniors send Blue Devil girls past Broncos in a lacrosse rout

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Baseball roundup: Rangers rally to beat A’s in the ninth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Sharks go up 3-0 with OT win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery





Five Three Oh! featured at April Performers’ Circle

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Celebrate spring at I-House on Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Music, wine flow at Fourth Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Biscuits ‘n Honey will play at winery

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9





Catharine ‘Kay’ Lathrop

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



Comics: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6