Imagine a flying horse. Now, imagine that horse is really a dog. Now, imagine that it’s also a guardian angel sent to watch over the soul of a roguishly charming petty criminal.
This is all literally true within the narrative of Akiva Goldsman’s spectacularly barmy directorial debut, but it’s also a decent analogy for the film’s perplexing identity crisis.
Part romantic melodrama, part gory supernatural fantasy, part time-travelling morality tale, A New York Winter’s Tale fails with such absolute sincerity that pointing out its incompetence feels mean-spirited.
In 1916, loveable rogue Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) meets his soulmate Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) while robbing her family’s Manhattan mansion, but their romance is cut tragically short by her case of aesthetically pleasing consumption.
Nobody can write high-concept gibberish quite like Goldsman (Batman & Robin, The Da Vinci Code, Lost In Space), and going behind the camera hasn’t deterred him here. Heartbroken and pursued by Russell Crowe’s Irish demon gangster Pearly Soames (no, really), Peter ends up with a case of amnesia.
A full century later, he’s still knocking about New York and takes up with a reporter (Jennifer Connelly) whose dying daughter is somehow connected to his past.
None of this makes any more sense on the screen. Goldsman’s take on Mark Helprin’s novel hinges on miracles, and fate, and the idea that the universe is so inherently loving that it will “bend over backwards across the centuries for each of us”.
It doesn’t take a cynic to see a flaw in this philosophy, but Farrell and Findlay are both charming enough to make the nonsense tolerable. Crowe looks like he’s having more fun than he has in years, but his A Beautiful Mind co-star Connelly seems utterly adrift, and with good reason.
Of all the many, many questions A New York Winter’s Tale leaves you with, the most compelling is: just who is this aimed at?
Verdict: A genuinely baffling genre mishmash that mistakes shambolic plotting for ingenuity and cloying sentimentality for emotional truth, A New York Winter’s Tale is too earnest to hate, but too misconceived to respect.