Going into Big Eyes completely blind, it was pleasantly surprising to see Christoph Waltz playing a charming (and dare I say handsome) romantic lead. Whilst that may not remain entirely the case for all of Tim Burton’s film, it’s another triumphant, dazzingly charismatic performance from Waltz and his more understated co-star, Amy Adams. Burton restrains from sprinkling too many of his stylistic signatures over this picture, instead trusting his stars to really take possession of this dramatic and at times hilarious true story of two artists whose work comes from dubious provenance.
Margaret (Adams) and Michael Keane (Waltz) marry as a charming pair of painters. Michael specialises in Parisian street scenes, Margaret on children’s portrait with either garish or sympathetic ‘big eyes’ depending on your persuasion. I think most people looking at her work nowadays will probably see it as dreadfully kitsch, which is probably what attracted Burton’s eye to the story. Michael decides to take credit for his wife’s much more successful work, which surprisingly becomes something of a craze across the United States. He gets himself trapped in a web of lies whilst Margaret is forced to remain passive to her overbearing and persuasive husband’s deception. Waltz’s charisma drives the film and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing this role and the film remaining nearly as good because he is so magnetic, so immensely watchable. Adams is just as good as the inconspicuous wife and silent virtuoso, trapped and stripped of her life’s work.
Burton gives the film this soft colour palette which matches the kitsch artwork and theme of falsity superbly. The final act manages to outshine all that came before, thanks to a hilariously performed and directed court scene which is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen this year and yet another testament to the comic, creepy brilliance that is Christoph Waltz.
Big Eyes is filled with a glorious sense of humour from a surprisingly restrained Tim Burton. It’s an interesting story, given exactly the right amount of madness, owing much to its triumphant performances and well measured comedy, as tragic and dramatic as it is good fun. It’s a really refreshing and fresh feeling surprise, a delight.
Review by David Rank
Big Eyes is out now in the UK. Running time 105 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).