Review: BIG EYES (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 19 January 2015

Review: BIG EYES (2014)

4 stars
BIG EYES is a refreshing change of pace for director Tim Burton: a wonderfully offbeat true-story drama about the Keanes and the epic art fraud scandal boosted with great performance by Amy Adams.

Over the past few years, the normally fascinating Tim Burton's brand of eccentric filmmaking style has dwindled greatly with lacklustre efforts like ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) and DARK SHADOWS (2012). Fortunately, he made a great comeback with BIG EYES, a biographical comedy drama which also marks a rare departure that doesn't feature his regular actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, oddball characters or elaborate vision of kooky fantasy often seen in his filmography.


Based on a true story, BIG EYES begins in Northern California in 1958 when unhappy mother and wife Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) decided to pack her stuff and bring along her young daughter, Jane (Delaney Raye) to leave her first husband after a bad marriage. They head to San Francisco in hope to start a new life. Then, one day while exhibiting her unique paintings of sad-looking children with an unusually large pair of eyes at an outdoor art fair to make some money, she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a charming landscape painter who has a deep passion for art. They hit it off quickly, and even gets married within a short time of period.

At the beginning, it was a blissful marriage, but it doesn't take long before Walter started to show his true colour. After securing a deal with a nightclub owner Enrico Banducci (Jon Polito) to use his wall space to display his landscape paintings as well as Margaret's works altogether, he realises that many nightclub patrons prefer Margaret's "big eyes" paintings than his. Soon, he begins to take his opportunity by claiming her art as his own. Although he manages to make a lot of money selling the "big eyes" paintings successfully, it was Walter who takes all the credit while Margaret begins to feel uncomfortable about his sham.

Depicting a movie that revolves around real-life struggling, yet peculiar artist is actually nothing new for Tim Burton. Prior to BIG EYES, he used to direct a fascinating black-and-white biopic titled as ED WOOD in 1994. Although that movie was a box office disaster, it was highly regarded by many critics as one of his best movies ever made. After decades of exploring mostly fantastical genre movies, it's nice to see him return to the biopic territory. His direction in BIG EYES is beautifully subdued and feels intimately personal that is both heartfelt and humourous at the same time.

Working on a screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, I loved how the story depicts the female empowerment and gender bias in the art scene during the late 1950s as well as the social commentary related to the kitsch art of the big-eyed waifs painted by Margaret Keane in the utmost entertaining manner.

Technically speaking, BIG EYES is visually pleasing to the eyes as Burton and his team of production crews successfully captured the pastel-coloured landscape of the late 1950s San Francisco as well as the delightful look of the Hawaii setting. Extra credits go into Rick Heinrich's exquisite production design, Colleen Atwood's stunning costume design and of course, Bruno Delbonnel's richly-textured cinematography that helps bring the particular era to life meticulously crafted with vivid details.

Amy Adams, who recently won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in the comedy or musical category, brings a quiet dignity to her soulful performance as Margaret that nicely transforms her from a naive housewife to a courageous woman after she decides to fight for her rights in the later part of the movie. She pairs well with Christoph Waltz, who gives a wickedly fine performance as the scheming husband, Walter. His spirited performance almost reminds me of his great work with director Quentin Tarantino in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2007) and DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) -- both memorable efforts that won him twice for Oscars in the Best Supporting Actor role.

The supporting actors -- including Jon Polito as the nightclub owner Enrico Banducci, Danny Huston as the San Francisco Examiner columnist Dick Nolan, Terence Stamp as the New York Times art critic John Canaday, Jason Schwartzman as an art dealer Ruben, Krysten Ritter as Margaret's best friend DeeAnn, and James Saito as the judge in charge of the case between the Keanes -- are all equally great with their respective performances.

The hallucinatory supermarket scene where Margaret starts imagining big-eyed people after stumbling upon her works being sold in the display; and the amusing courtroom scene where Walter is representing himself to defend his rights against Margaret.

As much as I enjoyed most of the scenes and performances depicted in BIG EYES, the movie feels somewhat lacklustre in terms of balancing the psychological insight of the main characters' agenda in an equal manner. It looks very obvious that Burton pays closer attention to Amy Adams' performance. We feel a certain level of emotional depth and sympathy that she is forced to go through. Although I did admit Waltz's performance is entertaining enough to watch for, I wish Burton could have explored his character further than strictly depicting him as a villain who wants to take all the credits and fame as a con artist.


Minor flaw aside, BIG EYES is nevertheless Tim Burton's most satisfying work in years.

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