It takes approximately ten minutes into Winter’s Tale before the notion of taking the film seriously is thrown overboard. From the unsightly hyper visualization of a newborn left for dead, director Akiva Goldsman deploys imagery that includes a scarred and demon-possessed Russell Crowe, a cancer-curing Colin Farrell galloping on a Pegasus, and most surprisingly, Will Smith as Satan incarnate. It’s a strange attempt at realizing a fairy tale atmosphere, lacking the visual proficiency that one would associate with Tim Burton and stripped of the balls-out craziness that someone like Terry Gilliam brings to the table. But Winter’s Tale remains remarkably confident in its movement, essentially embracing the fact that it’s certainly to be one of the most bizarre major studio produced film of the year.
The eccentricities that Winter’s Tale evokes are largely a result of what’s expected in its construction and marketing. Marketed as a Valentine’s Day escape, the film’s romantic qualities were expected. And with Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay as leads, it’s no surprise why their relationship is the centerpiece of both the narrative and marketing efforts for the picture. But the bow that ties this package together is an elaborate supernatural exploration about the nonlinearity of time and a presumed sense of destiny that comes from our existence. It’s a peculiar and somewhat audacious thematic concern for the film to tackle, though it does so with plenty of room for improvement. For one, the picture’s erratic tone and visual design makes the plunge into the supernatural particularly jarring. The sight of seeing a scar-ridden Russell Crowe violently bludgeon a waiter has an immediate shock factor that belongs in an entirely different film. And the heavy supernatural exposition complicates a film that really never needed it.
Preceding the last act was a misguided though ultimately forgivable effort. But as the picture moves into the contemporary, the tolerable gusto that made Winter’s Tale somewhat enjoyable buckles in a series of overtly precious sequences that, in all, strips away any goodwill. The last third of the picture is its own separate entity, where Goldsman’s more careful pacing is hurried into oblivion - there’s really no explaining why a picture like this could move at one speed and then accelerate to such a jarring and thematically disastrous conclusion . Winter’s Tale wouldn’t be salvageable under any other hands; the material simply does not present itself to anything particularly enlightening cinematically. The bizarre concept for a least half of the picture makes for one hell of a novelty experience. But like any novelty, the idea overstays its welcome.