Runtime 117 minutes.
OK for children.
This is a metaphysical movie written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, in his directorial debut, based on the huge, 700 page novel by Mark Helprin. Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is the seemingly eternal orphan who falls hopelessly in love with Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), a love that lasts over a century, starting in New York City in 1916.
The film starts, however, in 1895 with Peter Lake’s immigrant parents casting him into a small boat à la Moses off of their ship which is heading back to Europe, when they are denied entry into the United States. Peter has inside him a miracle meant for just one person, one life to save. It’s up to Peter to find that person.
Twenty years later he’s a thief for Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who is a demon reporting to Lucifer (Will Smith). Pearly acts as Fagin for Peter, but Peter is just too good a person for Pearly and goes out on his own. If you don’t measure up to Pearly’s evil standards, you pay with your life. Pearly somehow knows that Peter has this miracle and he wants to kill Peter before he can achieve it. Peter is aided by a magical horse that shows up at key moments in the film.
That’s the movie and you find this out in the first half hour. The rest of the film is a beautiful, well-acted love fantasy burdened by the fear of Pearly’s vengeance, ending in present day New York City, which finds Pearly and Peter the same age they were in 1916.
Goldsman directs with a deft touch. Although almost two hours is too long for a movie of this sort, I didn’t find myself looking at my watch too many times because the story grabbed me and the acting is so good. The chemistry between Farrell and Findlay is palpable.
Farrell is an actor of huge potential who seems to be underused. Here he gets the chance to exhibit range that hasn’t been available in other roles. Findlay is a beautiful, lovable woman and it’s understandable that a man could fall in love with her forever. Crowe is a fine hateful villain.
Smith’s wimpy portrayal of Lucifer is the only weak point of the film. It might not be Smith’s fault, however, because the character has been extremely poorly drawn. But, even so, a better actor could have done a lot more with the role. Smith acts like he just wants to get his scenes over with and get out of there. Had I been directing, I would have looked at the dailies and given him a quick pink slip, given that he is in so few scenes it’s little more than a cameo anyway. Too bad Jack Cassidy isn’t still around. He knew how to play evil, and could have given the part the extra oomph that’s missing from the script. That’s what separates a good actor from the mediocre.
Speaking of cameos, it’s good to see Eva Marie Saint again and that she hasn’t lost a step.
Apart from Smith, this is a thought-provoking, beautifully filmed (Caleb Deschanel, whose cinematography is award-quality) romance.