Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Big Eyes

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
"Big Eyes" is not one of Tim Burton's best films and does not quite rank among the company of his finest non-blockbuster movies - such as "Ed Wood," "Big Fish" or "Sweeney Todd" - but it's still a good movie with a fine central performance by Amy Adams as artist Margaret Keane.

There have been numerous films about artists of various stripes and painters in particular - in fact, one of the year's best films is Mike Leigh's visually stunning "Mr. Turner." But what makes "Big Eyes" a little more unique than most in its genre is the peculiar story at its center.

As the film opens, Keane - then Margaret Ulbrich - has left a lousy (we are told) husband and fled with her daughter to San Francisco. It's 1958, so her job applications are met with concerned questions about her husband's "approval" of her being in the workforce.

But Margaret's love is painting and churning out haunting pictures of young children with large, doe-like eyes. She meets Walter Keane, an alleged artist who immediately sees something sellable in Margaret's work and quickly finds a market for her unusual, but striking, paintings. Unfortunately, he also takes credit for the work himself, which Margaret, oddly enough, allows him to do for a time.

Christoph Waltz is a great actor and he's especially good as playing characters who are up to no good. His Walter Keane is one of the slimiest snakes to hit the big screen in a while and he takes on the role with verve. Adams has a slightly trickier role, portraying a mostly silent woman who feels more at home with her canvas than the company of others.

So, rather than being your typical painter biopic, "Big Eyes" is a more of a story about an abusive relationship, of sorts, involving a talented person, only this time it's the artist who is doing the suffering rather than inflicting it.

The film nearly gets derailed by a courtroom scene late in the film after Margaret has brought to light the fact that her husband is a fraud. Burton is a fine director with serious material, but this sequence takes on flights of fancy that might have been better suited to his more flamboyant fantasy films. Regardless, while "Big Eyes" may not rank among the director's best films, it's well worth a watch.

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