If having a horse in a movie is almost always a good idea, having a flying white horse ridden by Colin Farrell is the ne plus ultra. Farrell is an extraordinarily appealing actor, a five-o'-clock-shadow charmer. But even with those mad, Groucho Marx eyebrows -- like two caterpillars meeting on a leaf and saying "How d'you do?" -- and his party-boy reputation, on film Farrell has always come off as a contemplative fellow, one who carries worry with him wherever he goes. As Peter Lake, a petty criminal going straight in Akiva Goldsman's Winter's Tale — based on Mark Helprin's novel set in a mythical 20th-century Manhattan — Farrell must be a shy heartthrob in the movie's first half and a savior in the second. He pulls it off as well as anyone could. And his first meeting with that white horse is more pleasingly earthbound than cartoonishly fantastical. Approaching this lovely creature, he shows the humility of a stable boy and a sense of wonder at its otherworldly beauty. Horse and rider are a match -- as you would expect, there's a spiritual connection -- though later, Jack will appear shirtless with the feverish heiress Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), which is a different sort of magic altogether. Unfortunately, it all goes south when Jennifer Connelly shows up as a modern-day newspaper columnist and super-worried mom. Winter's Tale switches from a lavish mystical fantasy into a ponderous fable about destiny and miracles and stuff. Goldsman has written heaps of screenplays, but Winter's Tale is his feature directing debut. The proceedings feel perfunctory, and in the clinch, he overreaches for pathos.
Akiva GoldsmanColin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Russell CroweAkiva Goldsman, Mark HelprinWarner Bros. Pictures