Big Fish

Reviewed By DrChumley
Posted 01/31/04 09:58:40

"A Fisherman's Tall Tale beautifully brought to the screen"
5 stars (Awesome)

Some people like living in a world sharpened by the jagged edges of harsh reality. Others prefer to live life in the diffused glow of a rose-tinted world.

Ed Bloom (Albert Finney / Ewen McGregor) falls into the latter camp. His son, Will (Billy Crudup), inhabits the former. Ed loves to tell the stories of his life: catching the long-elusive giant catfish inhabited by the soul of a long-dead pirate by using his gold wedding band as bait; discovering the details of his eventual death by looking into the glass eye of the local witch; working in the circus for three years to find out details of a woman with whom he fell in love at first sight. Will has heard these stories before, and he’s tired of the tall tales.

It is after years of estrangement that Will finds himself at the bed of his dying father trying to reconcile fiction with reality. To Will, Ed won’t open up about his real life. To Ed, Will is unwilling to accept the person he really is. In the end, they’re both right and they’re both wrong.

Big Fish is a film about a master storyteller told by one of the greatest storytellers of our time, Tim Burton. With a wonderfully unique, heartfelt, and deep-yet-simple script by screenwriter John August (Charlie’s Angels, Titan A.E.), Burton has created a breathtaking film.

The cast is uniformly accomplished. Billy Crudup is wonderful as the analytically-minded Will, Jessica Lange shines as Ed’s devoted wife, and there are wonderful appearances by the tremendously under-appreciated Robert Guillaume and Steve Buscemi as the Bloom family doctor and one of Ed’s fanciful characters, respectively. But the real kudos belong to Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney for their living embodiment of the character of Ed Bloom.

Ewan McGregor once again shows amazing prowess with his ability to imbue storybook-ish lines with stylization and realism simultaneously. The Ed Bloom of times past, as told through story, McGregor takes lines easily ruined by a less-proficient actor, and finds the proper balance between reality and cartoony melodrama—much like the stories he is living out.

Albert Finney, however, deserves a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the senior Ed Bloom. Though confined to a bed for most of the film, Finney fills the screen with the personality and enthusiasm for life that befits a master of the fanciful tale. Even as he struggles for his life, he maintains a zest for the world that drives the film forward smoothly through what could have become a quagmire of hyper-emotionalism.

The film’s visuals are stunning. Burton, in his trademark way, along with cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, has managed to turn Ed’s stylized memories into Technicolor wonders—imbuing the screen with the heightened saturation found only in the mind. The bright glow of Ed’s stories contrasts sharply with the harsh light of his reality, helping us to understand why someone might very well chose to live his life in stories from the past.

Burton has always been a master of adapting the story/comic book to the screen. He has created dark, surreal world inhabited by unusual people and creatures in films like Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. His trademark “weirdness” is still evident in Big Fish, but never in an obtrusive way. He masterfully chooses his moments of surrealism, and never allows them to lose their grounding in reality.

Even the film’s pacing in nearly perfect: Burton never attempts to drag the audience along, but he rarely lets us get mired down in the heightened visuals or the many potential emotional black holes that exist in a script such as this. Instead, he lets the movie wander freely, much like one of Ed’s famous stories. Even the end of the film, which is a five-tissue tear-jerker, is simply allowed to happen organically, without resorting to the blatant emotional manipulation found so often in cinema.

Through it all, Will learns that his father’s life was more extraordinary than even his stories could have led anyone to believe. And though Ed’s stories were colored by the workings of an active imagination, as all good stories are, sometimes, the taller the tale, the more important it is—true or not. Big Fish is the story of a man who lived his life in the diffused glow of a rose-tinted world. And by the closing credits, it’s a world in which we hope to find ourselves much more often.

Is it worth going? YES. Enough Said. (9 out of 10)

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