U.S. Release Date:
December 10, 2003
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August
Composer: Danny Elfman
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Helena Bonham Carter, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Miley Cyrus
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference)
Tim Burton's visually striking Big Fish is like a fishing expedition. The catch takes a while, but the waiting is what fishermen relish. During the anticipation, director Burton presents a colorful panorama. Burton's bizarre fishbowl is not for everyone, including this reviewer, but he casts his line as far out as one might expect from the man who created Batman and Edward Scissorhands.
Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, played by Albert Finney, whose conflict with his adult son Will (Billy Crudup) frames the plot. Journalist Will is fed up with his father's exaggerated tales and, as Edward Bloom lay dying, he yearns to know the truth. The cancer-stricken Edward's lifetime is told through a sequence of embellishments by various characters.
Using fantasy colors, sets and lighting and employing composer Danny Elfman's moving score sparingly, Burton explores Edward's life sluggishly, from his youth to middle-aged melancholy to dying. John August's script, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, is suited to Burton's peculiarities, which means the story is secondary to the former animator's design.
Most of Big Fish depicts Edward as a young man (Ewan McGregor, flat as always). Edward's fantastic voyage begins in a small town in Alabama. Later, he joins a circus while courting a beautiful college co-ed (the stunning Alison Lohman). Present-day scenes are interspersed as Edward roams the land through love and war.
Finney is fine, though don't be fooled that he is the leading man. Big Fish is Billy Crudup's show and, as the son who pieces together his dying father's life, he is its best actor. Jessica Lange plays Edward's wife, and the cast includes Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi and Helena Bonham Carter. Marion Cotillard stands out as Will's loving wife.
August's script gets its hooks in toward the end, but Big Fish becomes tangled in McGregor's subdued style and takes on too many themes. Some tales provide better lessons than others. The main thread that life's journey is a search for oneself is obscured by competing legends, including a pointless bank robbery. Edward Bloom's story is neither fantasy nor reality; it is a stylized composite of both.
Given Burton's career as a Hollywood eccentric, there is much about Big Fish that feels borrowed. Edward's journey evokes Forrest Gump, Franc Roddam's The Bride and The Cider House Rules. At its core, watching Big Fish means waiting for the old man to die—and for his child to reconcile before he does—and in this sense Big Fish recalls On Golden Pond.
But Burton's Big Fish is dominated by pictures, not plot. With a powerful ending which makes letting go seem gratifying, Big Fish plays like a visual eulogy for one's father minus a truly profound drama. Burton has created an ambitious work of art with resplendent expression and with something to say.
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