“It’s the ripples that give the work meaning.”
I had low expectations for Winter’s Tale, but even the 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes couldn’t convince me that this movie could be any worse than wasting my time going to see Robocop. But what I was treated to by this film was an unexpected gem of a film that reminds me why I love movies and why I feel most other critics are blithering idiots.
Now the trailer doesn’t do this film justice. That trailer gives you just a love story. It gives you hints at the level of magic, miracles and fantasy in this film, but you aren’t sure if it’s just trailer hype or really in the film…but make no mistake, this is a tale of love and miracles. Destiny. God. Lucifer. Angels. Demons. And the fight for and value of a human soul. It is the story of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell in his first good movie since….good god….Hart’s War and Minority Report) is a thief being chased by his old crime lord boss (a demonic Russell Crowe) and is saved only by the intervention of a white horse, with very clear angelic powers. What we find is that Crowe’s character really is a demon straight from the pit working to stop humans from bringing forth the miracles that they have within them. And this is where Peter Lake meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a beautiful young woman who is dying, but who captures Peter’s heart immediately. Magic, miracles, love, redemption all follow as the lives and souls of Peter and those he cares about are put into jeopardy.
Without telling you too much of the plot this movie deals with the value of the human soul to the whole of creation. That everyone has value, that everyone has a purpose, and that even the smallest things can bring light into the world. It is a theme that is refreshing to see come out of Hollywood which usually views such ideas with great distaste and revulsion, usually only allowing it to come through in major blockbusters where it is watered down by the over the top action. But Winter’s Tale puts front and center the power of thought and ideas to ripple through the world in unexpected ways for the better or worse. And while the tale is one of magic that we never see in our world, the theme is quite clearly of the power of each of us to make the world better. There is a love story, and a beautiful one, but this movie is so much more than the love story that the trailer poorly suggests this movie is about.
And to top it all off you have Will Smith as a morose Lucifer who seems to know with certainty that in the end, he is going to lose and lose big.
So why did critics so revile this film. I think it has to do with three reasons.
The first is the imagery in the film. It’s a little simplistic. But issues of the soul are often best when put into simplistic images from the mustard seeds so beloved by the Buddha and Christ to modern day images of princes on asteroids and seagulls learning to fly. And critics being a pretentious lot find any kind of simplicity a flaw rather than the most effective way to tell a story. Second this is a story of hope. And your standard critic is a self-aggrandizing cynic who finds any story of hope below their ‘refined’ tastes. Finally the movie is not too subtle in imagery of the place where hope best exists…America. There is no shortage of flags flying in half the scenes of this movie. From it’s opening scenes where foreign parents believe their child is better in America without them than in whatever Eastern European hellhole they came from with them to well placed images of the Freedom Tower, if you look for it the movie has a very patriotic bend…something most critics find so base and common.
In other words everything that made this the bane of a film critic is what makes it perfect for real people.
It’s sad that this movie is being panned as it is, because this is the kind of film that we need more of. One that fills us with hope without being stupidly sappy, one that asks the larger questions of existence and leaves with light to find the answers instead of existential hollowness, one that reminds through its character of the goodness within humanity.
I will likely see this movie again in the theaters and will certainly buy the DVD with great haste when it comes out. In a year that at least seems to have few bright spots at theaters (at least it seems, I hope all the movies surprise me as this one did) this is a film not to miss for any reason.
Final grade: A, a solid A.
(It also appears to be based on a highly praised book which I have not read…but a review on that will almost certainly be coming before the end of the year).