When Mark Helprin’s book Winter’s Tale was published in the 1980s, a lot of readers were willing to forgive its gooey quasi-theology and romantic claptrap because it was set so beautifully in Manhattan. One critic called it the apotheosis of New York, and, even if that seemed a little redundant, you had to admit it was a fine 600-page valentine. (Later, when Helprin became Bob Dole’s speech writer, many former fans went a little cold.) Sadly, Akiva Goldsman gets the city part of the story only partly right in this long-overdue adaptation. N.Y.C. is there, and it’s pretty, but in the annals of great movies about Gotham, this one barely rates a star.
Gooey or not, the romantic aspect of the movie works better than you might expect. Colin Farrell, who was so stiff and absurd in Saving Mr. Banks, seems to have regained full possession of the facial tics and wide-eyed dismay he used so well in In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The rest of the cast (Russell Crowe makes a fine Irish demon) is magnificent, when you consider how corny the underlying message is: sacred interconnectedness and time-traveling destiny fulfillment. It’s Cloud Atlas redux.
Goldsman’s problem, however, is taking a wondrous story about the Big Apple and filming it in cornpone-a-vision. It’s admittedly hard to make a magical white horse jump off a building and spread its wings while thrilling us with unlikeliness. Goldsman failed that job.