Classic Movie Review: Big Fish (Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, Albert Finney) 2003

Posted: December 30, 2012 in Drama
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big fish

When he was a child, Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) feared nothing.  There was a local folk tale in Ashton Alabama that a witch (Helena Bonham Carter) lived nearby, and if anyone looked into her one eye with a cataract, they would know how they would die.  He did look into the witch’s eye and he found out how he would die and it made him even more fearless.  Edward had decided that he was too big for Ashton and moved on to Spectre Alabama, but before he left Ashton, he rid the town of a giant named Karl (Matthew McGrory) the giant was not mean, just hungry.  Edward reasoned that Karl just needed a bigger town to eat in. So they move on to Spectre, but Edward doesn’t stay long, the townsfolk claiming that he came to visit Spectre too soon.

Edward and Karl move on to work at a circus for Amos Calloway (Danny Devito) where Karl signs on as the new giant and Edward meets the love of his life Sandy (Allison Lohman) Edward agrees to work for free for Mr. Calloway just to find out more information about Sandy. Edward finds that Sandy goes to Auburn University and that she’s dating a rival from Ashton named Don Price (David Denmen) Edward swears he will win Sandy over, and he does, by getting beat up by Don and not laying a finger on him.  After the marriage, Edward is conscripted by the US army and agrees to go on a secret mission behind enemy lines in Korea.  Sandy fears he’s dead.  Not to worry, Edward is very much alive, and brings back two Siamese twins from Korea to work in the Calloway circus. He returns happily to a life as a door to door salesman. Near the end of his life, Edward’s son Will (Billy Crudup ) is grown, and he’s tired of hearing his father’s tall tales of giants, and secret towns, and especially how he caught a big fish with his wedding ring on the day Will was born.  Will does a little investigating, what does he find?

This is a fabulous movie, a fable, an allegory, if you will.  This is a visually arresting movie as all Tim Burton’s movies are, but the scenery changes perspective as Edward grows up.  The town of Spectre is a perfect example, when he first enters it as a young man, everyone is happy and the town is brightly lit, like something out of a holiday greeting card.  When Edward returns to Spectre, the town resembles the ghost town of its name, dry and desolate.  Maybe the town hasn’t changed at all, maybe only Edward’s perspective has changed.  Edward is fearless from the start, he looks into that witch’s eye, and sees his death and takes it as a sign there is nothing to fear, so he doesn’t fear the giant, he doesn’t fear getting beaten to a pulp by Don Price, and he doesn’t fear parachuting behind enemy lines in Korea.  I found his attitude to be refreshing.  I also found it interesting that Edward won Sandy’s heart by not resorting to violence.  Edward sees the best in all people, and that counteracts the cynicism of his son Will.  The acting is first rate Ewan McGregor could charm the birds from the trees, and often does, with as little as a smile and unending optimism.  Albert Finney is also wonderful as the older incarnation of Edward, just as charming and brimming with confidence as McGregor.  Helena Bonham Carter is both sweet and scary as Jenny & the Witch, a nice balancing act.  The direction by Burton is superb, alternating from dark and desolate to a daydream like haze.  Movies are a visual medium, and no one understands that better than Tim Burton.

Big Fish.  Catch it.

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