The ad line for “Winter’s Tale” reads “This is not a true story, it’s a love story.” The movie itself is every bit as gaga as that line. Adapted by writer-director Akiva Goldsman from the sprawling Mark Helprin magical-realist bestseller, it’s about a master thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), who is swept away by Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay, from “Downton Abbey”), a consumptive, red-haired beauty. Their love, or the ache of its absence, takes place in three different years: 1895, 1916, and 2014. The period detail is impressive; the romanticism is gooey.
Peter’s nemesis is his mentor in crime, the (literally) demonic Pearly Somes, played by Russell Crowe in a gutteral mode that threatened at any moment to turn operatic. (Fortunately, it doesn’t. I’m still recovering from his warbling in “Les Misérables.”) Goldsman, directing his first feature, is trying to achieve a fairy-tale radiance, not an easy achievement even for a seasoned pro. Most of the time the magic on view is distinctly unmagical – too many twinkling stars.
He’s pretty good with actors, though, and he’s stocked his cast with additional worthies, including Eva Marie Saint, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and, in an unbilled cameo, Will Smith as no less than Lucifer. If only there was less mush and more meat in this stew. Grade: C+ (Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.)