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issue no.
  thursday
160
  january 15
2004
c o n t e n t s
 
RED Reviews
 
 
'Torque' Runs Out of Gas, Explodes, Cuts to T&A
Opening this Weekend
 

It's a Wonderful Ken: RED Locates Cool-Lookin' Ken Just in Time for the Holidays
 
   
 

 theReel
‘Big Fish’ Makes a Splash of Nostalgia
 
by Jeremy Mathews
 
  Ewan McGregor contemplates how he got to be so damn sexy while holding a key to the city and thinking about his car in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.”

“Big Fish”
Columbia Pictures
Directed by Tim Burton
Screenplay by John August, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace
Produced by Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks
Starring Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Matthew McGroy, Steve Buscemi, Loudon Wainwright III, Ada Tai and Arlene Tai
Rated PG-13

(out of four)

Ed Bloom tells a great story with flare, and everyone loves him for it. Except, that is, his son Will, who grew up with the stories and, in his father’s later years, would rather learn the truth about his father. This is the same effect Tim Burton’s new film “Big Fish” has telling the story—we’re amused, but eventually we wish we could get deeper than the film is willing to go.

The film tells the story of Ed’s life through a series of vignettes, told at various time periods, whether to little Will at bedtime or by old Ed on his deathbed. Albert Finney plays the old dying man with enough spirit to still weave a fallacious life legacy even as death looms.

Billy Crudup plays Will, who severs ties with his father on his wedding night when Ed insists on telling a long, false story about Will’s birth. It’s the last thread in a quilt of lies, and Will doesn’t speak to Ed again until receiving the news that he’s dying.

The film progresses in a decidedly split manner. The flashbacks of the film are usually enjoyable bits of magical realism, yet the story involving Will discovering his father’s life is decidedly stagnant, failing to show any real relationship between the father and son.

The film is directed by Tim Burton, who has probably directed more average films than any director whose work I look forward to viewing. His visual style is always inventive and well thought out, but the screenplays often cause problems with thin characters and half-baked plots.

Here, the characters are well acted by Finney, Crudup, Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman and Helena Bonham Carter among others, but the stories do at times run the risk of falling under their own preciousness.

The production design by Dennis Gassner and Burton’s team of art directors isn’t as expressionistic as in some of Burton’s more grotesque work, and is closer in style to his best work, “Ed Wood.” “Big Fish’s” flashbacks have a certain old-time quality to them, recalling old adventures and old urban legends.

As Ed during his lively youth, Ewan McGregor gleefully goes on a series of adventures and tall tales, and the film creates a nostalgia for those times when things were as they never were. Ed goes on a U.S. espionage mission against the Japanese in World War II that’s set to a musical number performed by conjoined twins. He impresses a woman with a field full of roses. He also every so often meets a famous poet (Steve Buscemi) who went missing from the public eye years ago and does little writing—three lines, to be precise.
The best moment in Ed’s stories is probably the moment he sees and falls in love with his wife (Alison Lohman in the past). Time stops as everyone freezes—including the circus balancing act and airborne popcorn—and he moves toward her, only to see time speed up to “catch up with itself.” This results in a long traveling residency with the circus, doing odd jobs to get the circus leader (Danny DeVito) to tell him about the woman.

These elements will doubtlessly attract people to the film, as they are very well-made and consistently watchable.

The story line of Will trying to learn about his father doesn’t really mesh well with the questionable truths of Ed’s past. The film argues Will’s points a bit too well to simply abandon them in what seems like a thrown-together ending.

Despite the problems, however, Burton captures the script about as well as it could have been captured. If the film fails to be profound, its hero’s alleged adventures provide a nice ride.

jeremy@red-mag.com



 
 

 

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