The Big White

The Big White


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Think Fargo, but not quite as dark and not half as good. This is the Big White, a dark twisted comedy set in Alaska about Paul Barnell (Robin Williams), a struggling travel agent, whose strategy to fake the death of his long-vanished brother and claim the insurance policy, takes a few unexpected detours.

Two locals kill a man and dump the body. Barnell, bent on making a fast buck to drag his lifestyle above snow level, decides his brother Raymond's (Woody Harrelson) mysterious five-year disappearance is enough to cash in the life insurance policy for $1m. But the Insurance Company represented by Ted (Giovanni Ribisi), an ambitious young insurance broker, requires physical evidence of death before paying out.

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Barnell, determined to find a way, conveniently stumbles upon the dead man's body and formulates a plan to cash in. Storing the body in a freezer, then pretending to be his brother for a day before simulating his death in the most cunning but callous manner makes for an entertaining watch.

Before the twists and turns wriggle their way onto the map, we are introduced to a few more characters. Margaret, Barnell's wife, who is afflicted with Tourette's syndrome and likes to throw a few involuntary Fs and Cs into her verbal input, spices things up. Then there's Ted, a cynical and unscrupulously ambitious insurance clerk, desperate to make his way up the greasy pole by any methods necessary; and Ted's girlfriend Tiffany, who runs an online mystic psychic service from home, or a "tea leaf business" as Ted sarcastically dubs it. The two original killers also throw in their tuppence, and finding themselves on the downslide of a $1m scam, provide another minor sub-plot involving Margaret, some rope and a bit of camp humour.

Saying too much will spoil the pudding but, suffice to say, The Big White survives mainly because it is driven by both events and characters working in tandem. The characters, each with enough peculiarities to fill 10 Big Brother houses keep things moving and the twists are sufficient enough to sustain interest.

The acting is convincing across the board with Ribisi again proving himself to be one of the better up-and-coming character actors. The main problem lies with predictability and a fundamental lack of originality. The denouement, while pleasing enough and not without a healthy dollop black humour, can't fully rescue this well-trodden genre and in the end the magic is missing. While the genre is still open for input, the Coen Brothers set such a high bar with Fargo all those years ago, that The Big White and many others, have been more than a finger tip away from touching it, never mind raising it.

Reviewed on: 23 Mar 2006
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Black comedy set in Alaska revolving around a death, a cover up, a swindle and a vendetta.
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Moominkat ***1/2

Director: Mark Mylod

Writer: Collin Friesen

Starring: Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Giovanni Ribisi, Tim Blake Nelson, W. Earl Brown, Woody Harrelson, Alison Lohman

Year: 2005

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, New Zealand, USA


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