COLUMBIA PICTURES (2003)

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Marion Cotillard, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito

There’s a big fish in Alabama that can’t be caught – enough people have tried and failed, but one man claims to have done it...

Big Fish is a bog standard film, full of clichés and typical feel good characters. No it isn’t, it’s a Tim Burton film. Therefore we have a small circus leader who is actually a werewolf (DeVito), a deformed giant, Helena Bonham Carter, conjoined Koreans, and a picturesque village where no one wears shoes. It’s a barmy Americana, but it feels right. Flitting between real time and Edward’s life recounted in flashbacks, once the characters are introduced the film flows nicely – and it’s apparent when the recollections kick in.

It’s a very Tim Burton feeling film, yet more grounded than previous efforts in that it feels less fantasy and fantastical. A story about a father with his head in the clouds and a son with his feet on the ground. The witch and her house feel familiar, as do the haunted woods (complete with jumping spiders and moving trees) and the happy town of Spectre brims with satisfying bizarreness through the splendour. The lovely shot of McGregor surrounded by daffodils – his grand gesture to Sandra – is perfectly shot with the colours, composition and camerawork and becomes the films customary image.

Ewan McGregor is an inspired casting for the role of young Edward. He brings the charm and cheekiness that he is well-known for, and also has the chops for the thoughtful side of the role, able to convey both effortlessly. He also pulls off a convincing Alabama drawl – only twice did I hear his native Scottish accent shine through! Still an under-rated actor.

Albert Finney brings a soaring performance as old Edward, riddled with illness. It’s especially impressive as the huge majority of the movie is spent with him in bed. The glee in his storytelling is conveyed wonderfully, and his anger at his tales being questioned is genuine. By the end of the move, it’s hard to not be moved by the performance.

As for the rest of the cast, Steve Buscemi has a brilliant cameo role as a poet laureate-bank robber-Wall Street winner, Danny DeVito is fun as the circus owner (except for being naked, shudder). Billy Crudup has a well-rounded performance that manages to be sensitive and frustrated without bordering on petulance, and man, does Alison Lohman pull off a young Jessica Lange?? (Casting director deserves a pat on the back there!). Also interesting to note Miley (Destiny) Cyrus cast as a young Ruthie in her first film role.

 

There is a plethora of great scenes throughout – the depressed looking clown with the gun, the kung fu in Korea, Buscemi’s inspired poetry (“grass is green, skies so blue, Spectre is really great!” ) – that allow the exuberance and exaggeration of the stories come to life, and also more emotive scenes (certainly towards the movies conclusion) such as the bathtub scene between old Edward and Sandra.

Some of the effects throughout weren’t great however, a problem more down to the budget than the talents of the production team. For the first two acts, the film slowed down when returning to the real world with Crudup – due to the facts that the flashbacks were entertaining, colourful, and wacky - McGregor’s magnetism drawing you in to them. However, there was no need to make the family home full of light during sad times, and the third act belonged to Crudup as he searches for clues to who his real father is.

If you want an offbeat, funny, touching movie then Big Fish is for you. Combining a high-quality cast and the correct level of storytelling to allow all of the characters time to breathe, all set to a poignant score by Danny Elfman, the movie develops and leads up to an emotional ending which is nothing but satisfying.

September 5th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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