“Winter’s Tale” will never be confused with “Nymphomania.” There is nothing hip, or shocking, or cutting edge about it. There is not one sex scene where you wonder: how did they film that, much less how did they do that?
Still, for a snow-slammed Valentine’s Day (on the East Coast at least), what could be better than escaping to the theater and falling for Colin Farrell? Or “Downton Abbey” beauty Jessica Brown Findlay, who played the littlest sister that took up with the chauffeur for love.
At the movie’s dynamic opening sequence set in Gilded Age New York, there is a confusing moment (some would and have said it is all confusing) when Colin Farrell’s Peter Lake hops on an enormous white horse. In a single bound, hero and beast escape the brutal Pearly Soames (a snarly, scarf aced Russell Crowe) and his henchmen by flying over an impossibly high iron fence.
The key to enjoying “Winter’s Tale” is making that leap into fantasy with Lake. The love story, directed by Akiva Goldsman, from his adaptation of Mark Helprin’s novel, is a time-bending action romance with production and costume design as rich as Godiva Chocolates.
Lake’s thief carries a Dickensian backstory. Soames plucked the immigrant orphan off the cobble-stoned streets. He mentored the lad until Lake grew into New York’s best burglar. It’s a hard-knock life.
But, now, Lake wants out, inspiring his mentor’s wrathy wrath. In a one-last-job plot twist, Lake burgles a Central Park West mansion on the way out of Dodge. He thinks it’s vacant, but encounters its sole remaining resident, Beverly Penn (Brown Findlay). The pre-Raphaelite beauty has just a touch of a very deadly, wasting fever. Just a touch, but definitely terminal.
Romance ensues (ill-fated, of course), just as surely as Soames’ relentless vengeance.
Farrell rarely gets to be this unabashedly romantic. Even as the drunken father (and title character) in “Saving Mr. Banks,” he sweated charm in an overlooked supporting performance. Not only is he easy on the eyes, but he’s a self-effacing and good-natured romantic hero. He holds the swagger – and leaves all that macho stuff to Crowe.
Crowe, the lead in “A Beautiful Mind,” meets up with “I, Robot” star Will Smith for a Goldsman reunion where they both break bad. There’s a trippy interplay between Soames — he’s not just bad, he’s demonic — and his supervisor, Judge (Smith), a.k.a. Beelzebub. If you can go with the white horse’s leap, you can cope with the loose-limbed black magical meeting of Smith and Crowe.
Devilishly lush, with jaw-dropping set pieces and a fantastic supporting cast, “Winter’s Tale” mixes action, fantasy and romance for a less cynical time. Remember: Critics didn’t like the similarly PG-13 romantic fantasy “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” either, or have much good to say about all those Nicholas Sparks movies. Follow your heart. Or follow Farrell.