Big Fish
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Tim Burton atones for the disastrous Planet of the Apes 2001 with this lyrical and involving family drama. Intriguingly, he doesn't revert to the quirkiness of his strongest artistic successes (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), but rather co-opts a glossy Hollywood sheen to a wistful, only slightly offbeat story. He also finally confirms that he does indeed have a thing about the name Edward.

In Ashton, Alabama, Edward Bloom has always been the big fish in the small pond. Even in retirement age (Finney), Edward spends his life telling tall tales of his life and adventures as a young man (McGregor) who runs away and joins the circus, falls in love with his dream girl (Lohman, then Lange) and faces countless life-threatening situations with charm and inventiveness simply because a grizzled witch (Bonham Carter) once showed him how he'd eventually die. All of this becomes too much for his now-adult son Will (Crudup), who escapes to Paris with his wife (Cotillard). Then when Edward falls ill, Will comes home to finally find out who his father really is. But truth is hard to find beneath the mythology.

There are only brief elements that remind you this is a Tim Burton film--some casting, ingenious costumes and scenery during the vivid storytelling sequences, a sense of lonesome integrity in the central character. Otherwise, this is a slickly produced Gump-like tale that spans a half-century in the life of both Ed Bloom and America at large. But this isn't Forrest Gump; it's a much more emotionally engaging, visually captivating dramatic story about our attempts to make sense of our own personal history, which gets more and more elusive the harder we try to hold on to it. There's a lot going on in this film, and it's skilfully brought out in subtle, telling performances. McGregor and Finney are superb as Edward at either end of his life--lively and mischievous, disarmingly daring and hugely romantic. Crudup also shines in a very introspective role, which really comes to life in the film's astonishingly powerful finale. And Lange gives a luminous soul to the whole film. If there's a problem it's in the overall seamlessness; we long for the awkward artiness of Burton's earlier films. Philippe Rousselot's epic cinematography captures the almost too-beautiful production design impeccably. Danny Elfman's sweeping score only occasionally touches those jaunty-shadowy tones that characterise his best work. But those are small complaints for one of the most exquisite and deeply touching films Burton has ever made.

cert PG themes, language, innuendo 18.Nov.03

dir Tim Burton
scr John August
with Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi, Matthew McGrory, Robert Guillaume, Missi Pyle
release US 10.Dec.03; UK 23.Jan.04
03/US 2h05

Big fish in a small pond: McGregor goes on another adventure...

lange crudup lohman
finney bonhamcarter devito
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Big Fish Donna Carter, Wisconsin: "Well, I didn't think it would be all that great a movie: Not my type. But I wanted to get out and go to a movie, and that seemed the best of the bunch available, so I went. At first, I thought I could have waited to see it when it came out in DVD, because it was a bit odd (but that was expected after seeing the previews). However, the further into the movie I got, it reeled me in. And by the time it came to the end, I was moved to tears. It's one I would add to my DVD collection eventually. Very difficult to describe. I wouldn't loudly say it's a GREAT MOVIE, but in a quiet and unusual way, it was a very moving one, and I might quietly recommend it." (1.Feb.04)
2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall