I initially thought it would be an interpretation of one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays. However as the film unfolded, it was clear that this was not the case.
The story starts in 1895, and goes all the way up to the present time, all set in New York City. However, the main love story happens in 1916. Peter Lake is a skillful thief who running away from his former mentor in crime, the fearsome Pearly Soames. Beverly Penn is a lovely and rich young heiress with long curly red hair. However, she is dying of consumption at the tender age of 20. With Pearly in hot pursuit, Peter and Beverly meet each other and fall in love, till one's death did them part.
The story does not end there, and instead fast forwards to 2014. An amnesic man aimlessly draws a figure of a lady with long red hair everyday on the sidewalk of a park with chalk. One day, he meets Abby, a little girl who was dying of cancer. With the help of Abby's mother, he discovers who he really is, and how he can fulfill his life's miracle. But he has to contend with the forces of evil which still threaten to confound his plans.
Colin Farrell plays Peter with his well-known and well-liked Irish rogue charm. The beautiful Jessica Brown Findlay plays Beverly with so much verve and magic. We were feeling some kind of a "Titanic"-like doomed lovers vibe as we watched the two together, which made Colin look a little too old for his role. In any case, he still managed to pull it off creditably well somehow. This is despite me noting that his modern-looking haircut distractingly kept on changing its style even as the camera shifts within the same scene.
As the devilish brute Pearly, Russell Crowe again shows off his acting mettle, this time as the main ruthless antagonist. His violent anger would sometimes get some Interesting yet subtle CG help to make it more demonically explosive. He would also have a couple of well-written scenes featuring a surprise appearance by Will Smith, who makes an uncredited cameo as Judge Lucifer himself.
Like Crowe and Smith, other Oscar-winning or nominated actors make notable supporting turns. William Hurt plays Beverly's protective father Isaac Penn. Graham Greene plays Peter's sage adviser on the streets. Jennifer Connely plays Virginia, Abby's distraught mother. And the ever- glamorous Ms. Eva Marie Saint plays a centenarian who knew of Peter and Beverly's love affair. Even with her few short scenes, Ms. Saint gives a most memorable, touching and dignified performance.
The performances by two child actresses, Mckayla Twiggs (as Beverly's spunky sister Willa) and Ripley Sobo (as the cancer-stricken Abby), were also remarkably good.
Since we went in without knowing anything about the story, we were very surprised about the fantasy aspect of this film. When we saw that white horse for the first time, we thought it was odd. But when we witnessed the wondrous things this horse could do, we were fascinated. The CG rendering of these special effects with the horse were mesmerizing, very well-done.
The way the story was told back and forth in time can get a little confusing at first. The plot is a little too convoluted for a regular love story. But of course, this is far from a regular love story. Akiva Goldsman (who won an Oscar for writing "A Beautiful Mind") adapts a novel by Mark Helprin. This is also his directorial debut for a feature film. I have not read the book so I cannot comment on how faithful he was in his adaptation. He did well though to tell a complicated tale that spans more than a century and with supernatural elements, in such a confident yet charming manner, without making everything look absurd.
Most audiences would be enchanted by its bittersweet magic as my wife and I were so enthralled. We are happy we had this film as our Valentine movie date this year. 8/10.