Akiva Goldsman’s magical romance proves that not every novel is fit for film adaptation
When Martin Scorsese deems a motion picture “unfilmable” you would think every other director would follow his lead and walk away as well. Nevertheless, Akiva Goldsman clearly disagreed and instead tried to turn Mark Helprin’s critically acclaimed novel, A New York Winter’s Tale, into another one of his Hollywood masterpieces.
To be fair (and to buffer the blows that are yet to come), the actors did their best. Colin Farrell’s thief turned lovesick miracle worker, Peter Lake, definitely rallied the sympathies of the female audience; while Russell Crowe, as always, took on the role of Pearly Soames with such vigour that you quickly forgot you once loved him in The Gladiator. However, the praises stop here.
To begin, Will Smith as Lucifer? Really? Goldsman prefers to work with actors he knows, but this was a bad casting decision on all fronts and proves you shouldn’t hire friends and expect good results. Will Smith is a brilliant actor and we all know he’s capable of a lot more than Will in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but every time he appeared on screen I expected him to start bobbing his head along to the show’s iconic theme tune. Point blank, he was the most unbelievable Lucifer possible.
Secondly, Colin Farrell’s Irish accent? Obviously, it wasn’t bad being that he’s Irish, but it had no place in this film. He was supposed to be an orphaned Eastern European boy who had lived in New York for his whole life; shouldn’t it have been American? In the past, Farrell has taken on countless roles with a perfect American accent, which makes me wonder whether there was some logical explanation for it that got left on the cutting room floor? Or did Goldsman just think we wouldn’t notice?
However, the real problem with this film was its inability to make the novel’s magical realism plausible on screen. Back in the ‘80s when his book was released and voted one of the 22 best pieces of American fiction, Helprin was praised for his portrayal of the fantastic as conceivable in our contemporary world, but that was definitely not the case in this film. Peter Lake instantly falling in love with Beverly Penn was ludicrous and I couldn’t help but be as disinterested by it all as the old man, who, like the audience, is forced to hear Lake pine on and on over his new love. Then, when you finally come to terms with the absurdity of it and start to feel like you may actually be enjoying the film, a magical flying horse appears and jerks you right back into your pool of utter disbelief. And this just keeps on happening for the next 118 minutes: Hans Zimmer’s score pulls you in, your emotions are peaked and then “BOOM!” magical Pegasus is bounding across the screen again. I’m guessing this worked in the novel, but on screen it didn’t have the same effect and everything just felt a bit too ridiculous to make you care about the underlying message.
It would seem Hollywood’s obsession with turning every bestselling novel into a film may have finally reached its limit, at least when it comes to magical realism.