Colin Farrell is cast adrift in an airy-fairy adaptation of Mark Helprin's weighty magical realist novel, playing Peter Lake, an Irish immigrant who walks the streets of New York for a hundred years, without ageing a day. Love is what sustains him, along with some heavenly hocus pocus, but A Beautiful Mind scribe Akiva Goldsman (making his directorial debut) fails to anchor the soaring flights of fancy in the day-to-day grind.
For one thing, his well-heeled sweetheart Beverly (Downton Abbey's Lady Sybil, Jessica Brown Findlay) is lacking in substance despite staring death in the face with a bad case of consumption in 1914. She's just so darned sanguine, even when Peter makes her acquaintance while robbing her home. But, hey, he rides a white horse so he can't be all that bad. In fact, Peter's criminal past doesn't cast much of a dark shadow at all and the horse is a winged angel who has picked him out to perform some greater good.
The proper villainy is left to Russell Crowe (with a horrifying Oirish accent and monotone performance) as Pearly Soames, one of Satan's minions who once played Fagin to Peter's young street urchin. For no good reason, Pearly is willing to risk his own immortality just to teach Peter a lesson about loyalty and that puts Beverly in grave danger. Of course, she's dying anyway, so...
There are wide gaps in reasoning and characterisation and Goldsman fails to illustrate what keeps the fire in Peter's belly stoked through generations, all the way from the early 20th century to present day Manhattan. Conveniently, Peter loses his memory soon after Beverly is taken from him and Farrell can't do much except stare into the middle distance trying to make sense of everything decades later.
Jennifer Connelly has even less to grab a hold of in the second part of this unevenly structured story, set in 2014, playing the woman Peter is mysteriously drawn to. She can only run to try and keep up with him, jaw agape, as he babbles about the fabric of time, destiny and the mortal danger they're faced with once Pearly tracks them down. "This is crazy," she remarks, to which he replies with those immortal words, "Just trust me, OK?"
She does just that, presumably because Goldsman doesn't have the screen time to investigate the delicate thought processes and bittersweet emotional torment originally drawn out in Helprin's 750-page novel. By this stage, the director is rattling towards his big finale and is depending on luscious effects work set against sparkly snow-caked backdrops to inspire the requisite awe. Screw logic.
Visually, at least, Goldsman manages a seamless blend of the earthly and the celestial, and the unabashed romanticism is an effective lure at the start. But the feeling dies away too quickly and he loses the courage of his convictions long before the end, which should blow you away and instead is totally bemusing. He wants us to believe in miracles, but a bit of common sense would have helped.