Ageing and ailing Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) has told so many tall stories that his son Will (Billy Crudup) hardly knows his father or what's real about his life and what's not. While visiting his parents with his pregnant young wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard), Will tries to prise open his father's real persona. But even the younger Bloom (Ewan McGregor) was a yarn spinner, always too big for Ashton, the small town in South Carolina where he grew up - indeed, at one stage he literally grew too fast and was confined to bed, where he devoured the World Book Encyclopedia. The telling of a life, Bloom felt, was always just as important as the facts of it, and a man's life could be limited in a small place, like goldfish which stays small in a small bowl.
Review by Louise Keller:
An uplifting and magical tale, Big Fish entices us on a spectacular journey where hearts and lives connect and collide. Our guide is director Tim Burton, whose skewed sensibility assures us that flavours, not facts, have the power to change and colour our world. Beautifully adapted for the screen by John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), Big Fish is first and foremost a story about a father and son relationship, but in this storyteller's extensive mixing pot, there are many ingredients, including all the curious characters we meet along the way.
Both Edward and Will are storytellers: Edward embellishes the truth through his rose-coloured glasses and Will writes matter-of-factly. Unable to connect emotionally, Will resents his father's legendary storyteller status and doesn't seem able to recognise that the man is the sum of his tales. And we are enchanted as we begin to hear about Edward's many adventures.
First, there's the story about the day that Will was born, and that huge fish that was enticed by the gold of Edward's wedding ring. The extraordinary thing is that what may sound far fetched in the retelling, is absolutely believable as we experience things as they happen - like when Edward foresees his destiny in the prophetic prosthetic eye of the local witch, leaves his small-town home in the company of a giant, meets the girl of his dreams by working in a circus for a midget circus ringmaster and wins her heart with a dose of romanticism filling a field with daffodils. The very first moment he sees Sandy across a crowded circus tent, time stands still - literally - as Edward walks towards her, pushing aside the frozen curtain of popcorn suspended in mid-air. As if to make up for that lost time, life subsequently speeds up, and she is gone.
The next challenge is to find her and in order to do so, Edward's sojourn in the circus entails tasks of all kinds - from scrubbing fat men in a tub, sticking his head in a lion's mouth, being shot out of a cannon and blowing up balloons.
One of the film's most memorable adventures is in the heavenly town of Spectre, where water tastes sweet and shoes are collected on a high wire. Burton's touch is everywhere and we don't want the journey to end. The casting is wonderful: Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor charm effortlessly as the older and young Edward, while Jessica Lang and Alison Lohman dazzle as Sandy older & younger. Billy Crudup is perfect as Will, and in those final moving, climactic scenes between Will and Edward, when the prophecy comes true, I was beyond caring who could see the tears that were pouring down my cheeks. Every single bit of casting is terrific - from Danny DeVito's ringmaster to Steve Buscemi's poet cum bank robber, and Helena Bonham Carter's dual roles.
The cynics may say it's manipulative - and it could well be, in part.. But if the fish are biting and the bait is willing, why resist? Never has going fishing or getting caught been such a treat. Big Fish has Big Impact. It's an unforgettable and joyous entertainment that tugs at every emotion.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tim Burton's seemingly endless sense of the whimsical colours this ambitious adaptation, bursting with the richness of the book and its layers upon layers of ideas, metaphors and symbols, all the while maintaining a juggle with humour, drama and pathos. It's a tottering tower of a film, like a six storey human pyramid that might have performed in the circus that plays a major role in the story. Like the circus metaphor, the title metaphor has to be translated from prose to images, and this is where the film is struggling. Not with the images, they are wonderful, but with the ideas that drive them, which can't so readily jump from page to pictures.
But the exceptional cast makes it all an engaging if manipulative exercise, with Jessica Lange in a small but crucial role as the older Bloom's wife, played in her youth by the lovely Alison Lohman, who is perfectly cast for both looks and temperament. Danny de Vito as the circus master (and in a playful nude scene) is decorative, while Billy Crudup is our connection to the emotional heart of the story as the son in search of his father - and finding him to be a lot bigger fish than he thought.
Ewan McGregor as young Bloom has the hardest role, partly due to the writing, which makes him seem so much less colourful than he is in old age, thanks to Albert Finney's masterful, solid, experienced and scene stealing performance. Karl the Giant, Helena Bonham Carter as the woman who tried to steal young Bloom's heart and Steve Buscemi has fun with his poet turned bank robber. It's a brave attempt to film the unfilmable, and at least Burton points our hearts in the right direction.
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BIG FISH (PG)
CAST: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito
PRODUCER: Bruce Cohen, Richard D. Zanuck
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
SCRIPT: John August (Daniel Wallace, novel 'Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions')
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Philippe Rousselot
EDITOR: Chris Lebenzon, Joel Negron
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dennis Gassner
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 5, 2003