BIG EYES review by Gary Murray – Tim Burton turns his lens on a dark side of the art world

BIG EYES review by Gary Murray – Tim Burton turns his lens on a dark side of the art world


Tim Burton has been behind some of the strangest films of the last few decades. He’s given us classics like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie. There is almost always a macabre element in all his films. In his latest work, Big Eyes, there are no strange or supernatural elements. It is basic, straight-forward cinema… with no Johnny Depp.

The story takes place in the middle of the last century. Margaret (Amy Adams) is a young mother with an abusive husband. She finally gets enough courage to leave him and head for San Francisco with her daughter. She is a painter who hopes to find acceptance of her work, painting portraits where all the characters have exaggerated eyes. Almost instantly, she meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz). He is a landscape artist who studied in Paris. She is smitten by him and his work and soon they become a couple and get married. We see that Walter has a wicked tongue and a smooth demeanor. He uses his charms to sell his works, which are not very good.

Local art patron and dealer Ruben (Jason Schwartzman) believes that the paintings are just the worst of popular drivel and have no artistic merit. Most of the art world takes this track with the works of the Keane paintings. Eventually Walter convinces the owner of a jazz club to display the works of Keane. He sets up his street scenes and some of Margaret’s child paintings. The people seem more interested in the giant-eyed portrait paintings than the Paris buildings. Walter states that he is the Keane who painted the portraits. He lies to make a sale.

The rest of the film is about the building and eventual destruction of the Keane empire. Almost instantly, Walter Keane becomes the darling of the San Francisco art world. Much of this is done by his charms and not the strength of the work. All of the other artists hate his work, but they hate his success ever more. Single-handedly, Walter invents the idea of artistic reprints and turns the works into a million dollar industry with a massive studio.

All this time, Margaret slaves away at creating the paintings and keeping the deceit going. Not even her best friend DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter) knows the truth behind the success. Margaret doesn’t want much, just recognition that she is the artist behind the work. The film works along the line of a farce and builds to a trial. The last act is where the film takes off. Christoph Waltz as a crazed man defending his lie is a brilliant ending to a fascinating tale of art and deception.

There are two reasons to see this film, the performances of the two leads. Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams are both brilliant in their roles and work perfectly together. Tim Burton finds the ideal dynamic between the characters and lets his two talents do what they do best. Waltz is especially brilliant with his role as a con man that gets in way over his head.

There are many people who have given up on Tim Burton. To be honest, when he fails he fails epically. Dark Shadows, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were all massive failures, but they all had something interesting going on in some element. This film is more for those who have an idea of what to expect from Burton and think they have seen all his tricks. He crafts a film about people and not about elements, emotions or extravagances.

To be honest, no one really truly knows what art is, they just know what they like. It is the most subjective experience. Some hate these paintings while others love them. If one thinks that the Keane paintings have an Anime feel to them, you’d be right. The Japanese animation style is homage to those works. In the end, Big Eyes is about the difficulties of building a marriage on anything other than trust. It is of one Tim Burton’s more human films and a highlight of his career.

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