Tim Burton is one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time yet he faces a lot of heat for indulging in commercial interests over the past decade. Since the terrific Big Fish he’s made just one good film, about a demon barber of Fleet Street, and cashed in on underwhelming big budget stuff like Alice in Wonderland Dark Shadows.
With Big Eyes Burton reteams with his Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the results are really quite fantastic. It’s the film Burton’s fans have been waiting for a long time.
Big Eyes chronicles the really strange but darkly funny true story of Walter Keane (played by Christoph Waltz), who pioneered the famous Big Eyes paintings in the 60’s. The paintings sold like hot cakes back then, generating millions of dollars for the Keans and gaining the attention of the biggest bigwigs in the art and showbiz industry, not to mention creating a cultural phenomenon previously unheard of. Little did the world know that Kean hid something huge – he had zero skill in arts, and that his wife Margaret (played by Amy Adams) secretly did all the paintings, while Walter took all the credit.
It’s a great story and Burton and his writers flesh out the film in a winningly comedic manner. Burton restrains his direction to downplay the ‘artiness’ yet the film retains that unmistakable Burton charm in pretty much every scene of the film. There are dark themes, like a man rescuing a woman from a divorce, sweeping her off her feet and eventually putting her in the same prison she was initially in. There’s also the subject of a willing participant in a fraud being unsure of the love for or the fear of being harmed by the other participant. But the film is very funny, hitting the perfectly right notes in the dark region linking a farce and a drama. There’s a great scene in the final act where Keane battles in court both as the lawyer and the client – that whole sequence is so ridiculous you won’t believe it’s true but you’ll eventually realize the filmmakers have toned down the real life craziness in the film.
Waltz is yet again terrific as Keane, he seems to have mastered the character of an inherently unscrupulous man, but this time he gets his comedic chops out. Amy Adams is wonderful again in the wistfully sad avatar, and her own eyes are a not so subtle indication of the casting decision. If superb performances, a winning script, and beautiful visuals are your thing there’s no reason why you shouldn’t see this film in theaters.
(First published in MiD Day)