February 27, 2014 Leave a comment
It’s 1886, and rather than be exported to Eastern European with their baby two anonymous parents encase him in a model boat and entrust him to the currents of New York Harbour. Twenty-one years later Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is on the run from demon-turned-gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), and meets terminally ill tuberculosis sufferer Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) while trying to rob her father’s house. Desperate to punish Peter, Pearly makes a pact with Lucifer (Will Smith) — Lou to his friends — that leaves Beverley dead and Peter cursed to live forever, alone. In 2014 he happens across Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly), a kindly food journalist who takes an interest in Peter’s unlikely story.
Akiva Goldsman has written some terrific scripts in his time, from A Beautiful Mind to Cinderella Man; he has also written some pretty terrible ones. What’s remarkable about Goldsman is not the inconsistency in his writing, but the fact that his failures are often as remarkable — sometimes even more so — than his successes. After all, this is the man who wrote Batman & Robin; who wrote lines like “There’s something about an anatomically correct suit that puts fire on a girls lips” and “I hate to disappoint you but my rubber lips are immune to your charms”. He has turned incomprehensible narratives and unbelievable dialogue into something of an artform; and A New York Winter’s Tale may very well be his masterpiece.
If you think the synopsis reads like some sort of feverish cheese-dream, as imagined by an old fashioned romantic introduced to the likes of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Twilight, then you may be surprised to learn that the really crazy stuff is still to come. This isn’t just the story of an ageless Irishman, born to Eastern Europeans and raised in America (did I mention that Colin Farrell is supposed to be twenty-one throughout?), but of his magical flying horse and his uncanny ability to fix all machines — be it a nineteenth century boiler or a modern day computer — too. Supporting players include a 106 year-old magazine editor, a woman who can freeze water by listing stars and a coin-tossing miracle worker. Did I mention the magic horse? It has wings made out of light.
The performances are just as mind-boggling as the plot. Farrell’s character has lived for centuries drawing the same chalk image of a woman with red hair. He plays the whole thing completely straight, leaving your eyes to wander to the two equally distracting haircuts he wears at different points during the movie. Findlay-Brown, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to realise she’s supposed to be dying, and spends the whole movie looking luminous and content, lazing about on a purpose-built tent on top of her family’s castle. Connelly, on the other hand, is going for the Oscar, pursuing emotional realism even as she and her daughter are beset by demons. It’s Crowe who really lets loose, though, with an Irish accent that verges on deranged and features that seem to be chasing completely different expressions simultaneously.
A New York Winter’s Tale — adapted from Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale — is more of a drinking game than a movie, and you might half expect the DVD to be sold in a box with shot glasses and sambuca. Drink every time a character speaks of light, miracles or Ursa Major; take a shot each time Crowe calls his enemy’s horse a dog; down another whenever Will Smith turns on a light bulb, and by film’s end you might actually know what’s going on — just in time to tell the paramedics.