Big Eyes review: Deception painted with a skilful hand

Director Tim Burton’s new film is a terrific story based on an artistic swindle

Film Title: Big Eyes

Director: Tim Burton

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 105 min

Wed, Dec 24, 2014, 10:00

   

The paintings (and subsequent merchandise) were sold under the name Walter Keane, but were, in fact, produced by his wife, Margaret. This swindle and its subsequent legal fallout form the basis of Big Eyes, the new film from director Tim Burton.

Margaret Keane, the artist whose kitschy saucer-eyed waifs have been creeping people out for decades, seems like an obvious biopic choice for Burton.

Her most famous subjects could easily populate the same spooky orphanage as creations from Edward Gorey’s non-Victoriana Victoriana, creations that have traditionally cast a long, influential shadow across Burton’s gothic oeuvre.

Surprisingly, however, Big Eyes shares hardly any DNA with Ed Wood, Burton’s last stab at biography (and arguably his greatest film). Indeed, the film shares surprisingly little DNA with any Burton joints.

His direction here is uncharacteristically restrained and his most beloved tics and preoccupations are nowhere to be found. Where is the Misunderstood Teen? Where is HBC? Where is Johnny Depp? Where be monsters?

We do, nonetheless, get a terrific story and a recognisably Burtonesque Blonde Ingénue in Amy Adams’ Margaret Keane. Adams’s believability works to paper over the various cracks in Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s underpowered screenplay. Adams is credible even when her lines are thin.

But Waltz’s brilliantly ostentatious Walter was always destined to steal the show. When the Keanes’ eccentric domestic tiff turns into a courtroom stand-off, Waltz offers us some of the best cinematic shenanigans of 2014.

A crack team of supporting players helps elevate the material, notably Danny Huston’s gossip column hack and Jason Schwartzman’s snooty gallery owner. The impressive Terence Stamp remains permanently and hilariously outraged as John Canaday, the late New York Times art critic.