Big Fish

Big Fish


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Something has happened to Tim Burton. The darkness has left him. Is this the man who made Sleepy Hollow and Edward Scissorhands?

It seems beyond belief.

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Big Fish is drowning in molasses and if there was one thing Burton loathed in his years as a Gothic nighthawk, it was sent-i-ment-al-ity. Even the word looks fractured beside his name.

This is the story of an estranged son, making peace with his dying father. It is also the story of the father, as an 18-year-old adventurer in the land of unbelievable promise, where he befriends a crippled giant, discovers a magical village which resembles heaven, and catches a monstrous fish with his wedding ring.

William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has lived all his life listening to his dad's tall tales. For him, it felt like sharing a house with Baron Munchausen, except Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney) was seldom at home. Despite a perfect marriage to the perfect lady (Alison Lohman/Jessica Lange), he spent his time on the road as a travelling salesman, making friends and accepting every opportunity presented to him, with one exception. He remained faithful to the girl of his dreams.

The film fails on every level. The Crudup/Finney relationship has a dysfunctional core ("He's never told me a single true thing," William says), concerning the destructive nature of charm upon those too close to it. Is the storyteller a phony, a liar or a clown? For the son, who missed out on love and games, it hurts and it matters.

His father lies in a big bed, sick to death, with the TV on as background pap. "I've been nothing but myself all my life," he insists, as the flashbacks dive into what appears to be a fantasy world, in which young Eddie discovers his destiny.

The contrast between William's struggle to communicate with his father and the make-believe fairyland of circuses and laked ladies who turn into fish is so extreme that it feels as if two conflicting scenarios have been thrown together without thought, or care.

The cast is wasted. Crudup (The Hi-Lo Country, Jesus' Son), one of the finest actors of his generation, has nothing to do. Lange adds a little light glamour and Finney hams it up with his thick Alabama accent. As for McGregor, he smiles a lot and bounces about like teenagers in Cliff Richard movies.

The heart of this romaticised fable beats in the final scene, which comes with a health warning: BRING BAG. LIABLE TO TURN YOUR STOMACH.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2004
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A teller of tall tales remembers the adventures of his youth.
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Director: Tim Burton

Writer: John August, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Guillaume

Year: 2003

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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