Years ago, I read Mark Helprin's strange, magical, and complex story WINTER'S TALE. It's a long book at 750 pages, but it held me with its shifting story lines and perspectives. It spans centuries and locations and the action in the book has profound metaphysical implications. And for this reason, I thought a film version would never be made much less attempted. But I have been proven wrong as director Akiva Goldsman tried his hand at not only directing but writing as well. He removed all but the central plot line in an effort to streamline the action and, I am sure, to make the ponderous tale more palatable to a wider audience. While he may have left some of the magic realism, and the 1895 backdrop, as well as our main hero Peter Lake, the script certainly suffers. And it especially suffers with Goldman's unfortunate and ridiculous additional character of "Lucifer" played incongruously by Will Smith dressed in 21st century clothing. It seems that Goldman felt he had to somehow explain the magic in the story, to force it to make sense to the lowest common denominator, but he chose the worst cliché to dumb it down for the masses. And the thing that really irks me is that the point of the entire journey of the book is completely missing because it is intertwined with the other missing plot lines. So instead of a huge, epic, thought provoking dénouement, we get a near-Hallmark Channel love story. Oh well...
I would be remiss if I failed to mention what a splendid job the cast does. Colin Farrell is great as Peter Lake, Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil from "Downton Abbey") is luminous as Beverly Penn (the camera adores Findlay and she brings a wonderful gravitas to the screen), Russell Crowe is appropriately evil, and Jennifer Connelly, precisely because she is excellent at what she does, is wasted as Virginia Gamely, a much smaller role in the film than the book.
I am aware that stories from novels must generally be altered to fit within the confines of a 90 or 120 minute run time and I accept that, but "Winter's Tale" either should not have been attempted, or should have been made as a two or three part saga.
Recommend? If you have read the book, not really, but if you must, then forewarned is forearmed. If you have not read the book, it might be worth a look. The art direction is quite lovely and there are some gorgeous visuals in it...and the story, however amputated, does stand on its own.