Mark Helprin's 30-year-old fantasy novel, "Winter's Tale," saunters onto the screen as a lovely but slow and emotionally austere experience, a romantic weeper that shortchanges the romance and the tears.
Colin Farrell stars as Peter, an orphan and a thief who grows up to be a second-story man, which is how he meets Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay). She's dying of consumption, he's smitten. And since he's ridden this magical horse that has thrown Beverly into his path in 1916 New York, Peter figures he can save her.
Not only can the horse fly, but it has already saved him from his demon mentor, Pearly (Russell Crowe), an oyster-loving bloody lieutenant of no less than Lucifer. Every so often, Pearly's scarred, unforgiving face splits into a satanic scowl, all teeth and rage, and the blood will flow.
Director Akiva Goldsman has rendered a tale of fine scenes with decent performances, but a story that probably won't please fans of the book and will leave those who don't know the book scratching their heads.
Findlay is one of those Hollywood Healthy consumptives, in the pink and playing a character whose constant fever means she goes barefoot in the snow and sleeps in tents even on the coldest nights. William Hurt is Beverly's newspaper editor father, and he and Farrell click in a sparkling and funny "what are your intentions?" scene that hinges on the confusing pronunciations of "claret," "fillet" and "wallet." Crowe is plenty menacing as the Devil's Disciple, but all the rules of this universe conspire to keep him from tracking his quarry to the ends of the wintry Earth.
Goldsman, who also counts the adaptation of "I Am Legend" among his credits, never lets the film lean on its effects, but the tone of the fantasy and the romance of it all evades him. "Winter's Tale" has no narrative drive and too little heart to come off.
Rather than solving the mystery of whether it is "possible to love someone so completely they cannot die," it founders and bleeds out -- a fairy tale too slow to "die the one true death."
PLOT A burglar with a gift for reincarnation falls for a girl dying of consumption.
RATING PG-13 (violence, some sensuality)
CAST Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe
BOTTOM LINE A fantasy romance that may be romantic but isn't really fantastic.
STATELY COE HALL PLAYS A ROLE IN 'WINTER'S TALE'
Though Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay and Russell Crowe have top billing in "Winter's Tale," which opens today, for Long Islanders the film's real star may be Coe Hall, the stately mansion at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, where shooting took place in January 2013.
"The story's set about 100 years ago and this house was built about 100 years ago," says Henry Joyce, executive director of Planting Fields Foundation. "They filmed for two weeks and used all of our rooms."
To turn one of the great rooms into a library, the crew brought in hundreds of books and "a table even bigger than what we have already," Joyce says. "And in the basement, they built a reproduction of a great big furnace. It looked like one of those great coal-fired furnaces that would have been used 100 years ago."
In some cases, filmmakers didn't want to include the mansion's artwork, which required getting special movers to take the art out of the room, Joyce says. "They had to pay the art movers. The curator and/or I were on site at all times to make sure they protected the works of art and the fine furnishings," he says.
Filming at Coe Hall also meant the addition of one other element that gave "Winter's Tale" an authentic look, Joyce says: "The first day they started shooting, it snowed."
-- Daniel Bubbeo