Big Eyes (2014)

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Here we get a thoughtful and brilliantly created look at social times and the power of character. ‘Big Eyes’ is displayed on its easel or the big screen with a refreshing turn from a once repetitive and stale Tim Burton. The performers are glorious, the look of the movie is lovely and it comes together to paint a fulfilling and dramatic bio-pic.

This film has Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) up and leave her husband taking her daughter, Jane to San Francisco, where Margaret hopes to use her talent of artistry to make money and raise her child. Once there she quickly falls for a fellow painter called Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), they marry and join forces. Soon her paintings garner more attention than his and he palms them off as his own work leaving Margaret battling to step forward or stay quiet.

This is assuredly one of Tim Burton’s best films, feeling like a hallmark of his good old days. After the same style film churned out, his usual maddening visions of CGI and childish wonder through dark twisted peepers, it’s more than marvelous to see the director shuffle a good few steps away from his normality and provide a film that ends up its own little thing. There’s nifty memories of his style, such as the opening looking a lot like the streets from ‘Edward Scissorhands’. It’s obviously a Burton release, there’s glimmers of quirky and dark hold but not enough to stifle.

The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is quaint and picturesque and he gifts the movie a nice stroke throughout. In general the art direction team have a lot to be proud of, it looks stunning all the way through, from the lush rolling green hills of the start to the turquoise blues of Hawaii. It could hopefully get an Oscar nod for production design or cinematography but I think it’s main hopes lay in the two acting leads, which is a shame as nearly every frame does look as though it’s a painting. The production should warrant that acclaim as scenes become more filled with beautiful yet odd waif portraits. The multiplying paintings culminating in one epic scaled UNICEF hanging are masterful and range from heartfelt to manufactured oil based spew.

What I liked about it most, is that even though it’s a biopic and there’s been a run of them lately especially these awards season, it focuses on two not so obvious candidates for film commentary. Martin Luther King, Jr, Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing can move along as I truly found the study of Margaret and Walter more interesting. It’s nice for a film such as this to shed light on these people and however sleazy Walter is, he comes across as a fascinating sad man, while Margaret stands upright as a shaken yet talented woman in the face of oppression.

There’s wonderful moments in vision and sound. The make-up is clever and constant, the iconography of eyes standing tall. The moment Keane sees her artwork coming to follow her is nightmarish and well done, not dragged out in a lucid trip that could have been expected from Burton. The eye make-up in general is perfect, most characters of the plot getting a touch up to their eyes to stand out, Margaret’s who seem bigger, the black of DeAnn’s eyes or in the lack of, as Walter grows more tired in the cyclone of lies he’s manifesting. The music by Danny Elfman is awash with quiet then rising sounds, a sort of echo to tapping xylophone and string effects that link up to Margaret’s paranoia and insecurity of her situation.

It does falter near the latter half, overly dramatic sequences feeling like a Picasso in a Monet gallery, the flaming matches or the fork in the eye threat are slightly off kilter. The Lana Del Rey song that comes into the cinema speakers during a scene feels so out of place, the mainstream artist and her vocals jarring the scene and coming across as a cheap way to get a nomination for Original Song, well by heck it worked as it’s up for the Golden Globe.

Amy Adams is brilliant, as per usual and I don’t think I could ever say a bad word against her. She portrays this wonderful woman with subtlety and emotional reserve against the more extravagant Waltz. You constantly stick on her side and testament to her acting and the true story you want to cheer when she finally speaks out and tries sticking it to Walter. Christoph Waltz is amazing, his acting as colourful as the look of the movie. He gives most of the comedy as the fraudulent schmuck and his overacting spotlight in the courtroom resembles the farce of a theatre play in a great way. The two of them come to the conclusion of The Great American Paint Off as I’m calling it and provide the film with it’s bold character driven quality from start to finish.

Quietly brilliant in direction and performance, it’s not screaming for attention and so much the better for it. Two fascinating real life people get the colorful, engaging and interesting biographical treatment they deserve.

7/10

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