Big Eyes is held together by Big Performances
As an eclectic investigation of outmoded gender roles, Big Eyes becomes a movie of social growth. Margaret Keane’s turn as an emotionally captured ’50s housewife moves forward into the earliest glimpses of empowerment. Her self-discovery – by sheer chance – came during the break out of feminism’s beginnings.
In the hands of Tim Burton, Big Eyes is eccentric. The film grows with Keane (Amy Adams) from a rather normalized examination of a wild, desperate, even unwilling art fraud and into something with the signature of Burton. Those big eyes become real visions. Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) becomes unequivocally mad.
The film is not angry. It probably should be. This forgotten tale – in which Walter charms Margaret into mental and artistic oppression while inadvertently creating a new phase of pop art marketing – is distressing. Margaret’s motherly qualities are central to her reasoning for staying, even as she becomes a lonesome prisoner, churning through inspiration.
Big Eyes’ narrative motion is a marvel.
Big Eyes’ narrative motion is a marvel.
Character development takes a turn for the subtle. Big Eyes pushes Walter from a shrewd street-side art dealer into a lavish non-painter who showers money onto his wife, funds which are earned through an outburst of false personality. The film is Margaret’s though, beginning as a woman already on the run away from idyllic, obviously matte painted pastures and inserting her naively into the big city’s modern art culture. It’s inclusive – for men. She is forcibly boxed in due to gender when she arrives.
From there it is all growth, locked into a deep sense of progression and building a facade of logic. Big Eyes has the luxury of spending time explaining how Walter’s trap worked. It becomes a process, a lie to make a few hundred dollars. Then thousands. Then millions. The lie is then too large to undo. Big Eyes’ narrative motion is a marvel. Through her story, Keane becomes an essential real world female hero.
Under Burton, Big Eyes is an alluringly odd film, if quiet compared to his typical output. This story feels personal to him. Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams produce uppity performances filled with accentuation to charge Walter with an electrical fervor. It’s overplayed, all of it. This is why Big Eyes works as it does, not only in the sense of being sharply distinctive, but being ever magnetized by Walter’s quirks. The audience is able to envelop themselves in Margaret’s shrinking domain. Walter was that good – just not that good to beat Margaret’s clearance of mind.
Imagery for Burton’s feature is stable. There is a refreshing consistency within each shot. Color is rich and thickly saturated, down only in scenes of danger or inside of a jazz club. There, black levels and contrast still rule (although they do for much of the film; it’s bright).
It’s low on oddities. Much of Big Eyes feels natural, certainly clean. Contesting this idea is Christoph Waltz who has clearly been filtered. Close-ups have a distracting level of noise reduction applied, likely to make him appear younger artificially. He’s older than Adams by nearly 20 years. Either way, such an effect is merely obnoxious.
Elsewhere, details are substantial. Effects work to recreate the changing eras and the look of each city is exceptional. Residential and commercial districts alike help ease the change in decades. Close-ups remain dominating, well lit and photographed.
Under the guidance of Anchor Bay, AVC encoding introduces no faults of note. The source material is cooperative. Noise is never a complaint. Note one scene turns black and white to imitate TV of the era and a promotional bit for the World’s Fair is inserted, done on aged 16mm stock. They’re fine of course.
Big Eyes, sonically, is a film of atmosphere. For something this dialog heavy, that is within expectation. Visits to a jazz club reverberate the bass in the LFE as clanking glasses and acoustics trail off into the surrounds. An early art fair captures the crowds passing by. Camera shutters click in a frenzy by the closing moments, pre-trial, as reporters keep the soundfield surrounded.
Much of the feature is quiet – Margaret seated alone painting with mild musical accompaniment. A few pop hits of the era squeak in too. Fidelity is no issue.
A 21-minute making of is basically filler despite some appearances by the real Margaret Keane. Of more interest is a live Q&A with Keane, Adams, and the writers. It’s certainly more open. Keane’s admittance that she had no idea who Amy Adams was is adorable. It’s a 33-minute segment.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.