The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
Adapting a well-loved book for the screen is always a risky proposition. Elements that work on the page will not work visually and vice versa. Compromises must be made. You cannot please everyone. But the film version of "Winter's Tale" probably won't please anyone: neither fans of the book nor those who have never read it. It lacks visual splendor (except for one or two scenes). It lacks emotional depth. It lacks scope and magic. It is clear that there is some big battle going on between Good and Evil and that Will Smith is somehow involved, but none of it makes any sense. The philosophical underpinnings of the novel, its thoughts on the turning of the centuries (and the millennium), and how cultures and societies go through giant upheaval during such moments, visible, and invisible, is completely lost in the New Age-y dreck drenching the narrative. Not even Colin Farrell as the thief Peter Lake can save it, and he is doing his level best, with an urgent, heartfelt performance. Mark Helprin's 1983 novel is one of the most poetic of the late 20th century, and yet this film version has no poetry whatsoever.
The opening of the film flies us around through time, from the 1890s to 2014, with Colin Farrell in both eras. It is a clue that we are not entering a realistic world, but it's so shoddily constructed that it's never entirely clear what you're supposed to be looking at. In the 1890s, a thief named Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is on the run from his former boss, a scarred monster named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, who seems totally adrift in this performance, hoping that a facial tic will somehow translate as menacing). Soames' black-derbied "droogs" chase Peter Lake through the Bowery, and Lake escapes via a nearby white horse who magically sprouts wings and flies over a locked gate. The visual effects are more My Pretty Pony than anything else.
Lake, who must get out of Manhattan to escape Soames, breaks into a Central Park West mansion to rob the joint before fleeing town. There, he comes across Beverly Penn ("Downton Abbey"'s Jessica Brown Findlay) in her nightgown, playing Brahms. She is a consumptive heiress with only six months to live. Her body temperature runs so high that she sleeps in a tent on the roof of the mansion, hoping that the cold air will cool her down. Beverly makes a cup of tea for the thief, and the two characters from two different worlds sit in the kitchen, talk, and fall in love.
Peter becomes convinced that he can find a way to save Beverly, and he thinks that maybe the magical white horse (now his partner-in-crime) might be able to help. He joins the Penn family in their winter retreat up the Hudson River, and passes muster with Beverly's stern father (William Hurt). Meanwhile, Pearly Soames is on his trail, but through some dark magic is not allowed to leave the boroughs of New York. He goes to request a weekend pass, basically, from the "Judge" (Will Smith), a guy with earrings lounging in a bed in a subterranean dungeon. The scene that follows between the two of them, in which they suddenly turn into snarling, snapping demons, is incomprehensible.