Big Fish

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Review byMatthew Turner12/01/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 125 mins

Big Fish is an imaginative, heartfelt, whimsical tale that marks a return to personal projects for director Tim Burton – however, despite some lovely ideas and a terrific cast, it doesn’t quite work and falls short of greatness.

Being a fan of Tim Burton’s films can be awfully hard work. Although he’s made a handful of undisputed cult classics (BeetleJuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), more often than not his films are packed with wonderful visuals and ideas yet, somehow, they don’t quite work (Mars Attacks!, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Planet of the Apes).

Frustratingly, Big Fish falls into the latter category, despite a wonderful cast and some inventive visuals. It’s still enjoyable, it’s just somehow not the film you feel it could have been.

Not Actually By Tim Burton

Although Big Fish feels very much like something Burton himself could have come up with, it��s actually an adaptation of a novel by Daniel Wallace. Albert Finney plays Edward Bloom, a man with a reputation for spinning tall tales about his life. When Edward falls ill, his son Will (Billy Crudup) tries to sort fact from fiction in order to really get to know his father before he dies.

The story, then, takes place half in ‘reality’ and half in an exaggerated fictional reality, in which Ewan McGregor plays the younger Bloom, travelling all over the world and having bizarre adventures that include Korean conjoined twin lounge singers, a circus (owned by Danny DeVito), a giant, a witch (Helena Bonham Carter) and a poet-turned-bank-robber-turned-Wall Street baron, played by Steve Buscemi.

The performances are excellent and all credit must go to the casting agent – McGregor and Finney are convincing enough as young and old versions of the same person (by extension, Crudup could easily be McGregor’s son), but the resemblance between Alison Lohman and Jessica Lange (who play young and old versions of Sandra, Edward’s sweetheart) is nothing short of uncanny.

Wonderful Supporting Cast

The supporting cast are equally wonderful, particularly DeVito and Buscemi, but also Crudup, who underplays effectively and ensures the film never strays too far out of ‘reality’.

There are some truly delightful scenes: highlights include Bloom’s encounter with the conjoined Korean twins (which has a delightful pay-off towards the end); his wooing of Sandra (involving sky-writing and a field of daffodils); and pretty much every scene with either DeVito or Buscemi.

However, the film is never as emotionally moving as it really needs to be, despite all the ingredients being in place – as a result, it feels as if something is somehow missing.

That said, it’s a watchable, frequently enjoyable film and a treat to see Tim Burton back on familiar territory again. There’s certainly enough here to keep Burton fans sated until the release of his next project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka). Worth seeing.

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Big Fish
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Content updated: 19/01/2020 12:20

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