Cast: Christoph Waltz, Amy Adams, Madeleine Arthur, Delaney Raye, Terence Stamp, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Krysten Ritter and Jon Polito;
Director: Tim Burton;
Based on a true story that made headlines in the early 1970 in the US, “Big Eyes” is the tale of deceit and exploitation in the matrimonial sphere of an expressionist artist, where the husband takes credit for his wife’s work.
Narrated through the point of view of Dick Nolan, a senior columnist of a leading daily, director Tim Burton unveils the turbulent ten-year period in the life of the stifled artist and housewife, Margaret Ulbrickm, who painted portraits of sad, saucer-eyed waifs.
After a failed marriage in 1958, Margaret travels along with her young daughter from North Carolina to North Beach in San Franciso where she meets a smooth talker and fellow struggling artist Walter Keane, who woos her.
With an unhappy marriage behind her and a grim future before her, Margaret happily accepts Walter’s proposal for marriage. After a short honeymoon in Hawaii, high on romance Margaret simply signs off her latest work with her newly acquired surname ‘Keane’.
In the meanwhile, Walter manages to display her work along with his in an upmarket nightclub owned by Enrico Banducci. Disgruntled with the location of the display area, a fight with Enrico leads to headlines and interest in the paintings. And soon Walter sells Margaret’s work as his own.
He cajoles her with “People do not buy lady art. There is no market for it.” He also assures her that now that they are one, the sale benefits “the family”.
Margaret, though hurt, gives in. Walter steadily builds an empire marketing her paintings and posters as his creations. And then when things go out of control, he blackmails her with, “We have committed a fraud”.
Now guilt-ridden and subjected to Walter’s tyranny, she flees San Francisco to Hawaii, where she joins a cult that call themselves Jehovah’s Witness and one fine day on a radio programme, she reveals to the world that she is the only artist in the family.
The script subtly brings the underdog story to the forefront with issues of subjugation of women, intellectual property theft and the role of the media in manipulating public opinion.
Burton handles the compelling subject deftly and delicately. And his two lead actors do full justice to their role.
Christoph Waltz, as the talentless Walter Keane is energetic and far-reaching. He goes to absurd lengths with his performance that reveals the sleaze and sliminess of the character. It is a treat to watch him defend himself at the trial.
Similarly, Amy Adams shines as Margaret. Her transformation from a shy person to a guilt ridden slave working on canvas after canvas and then gradually shifting gears to an obstinate and forthright person, is subtle and evoking. She touches an emotional chord and is a brilliant contrast to Waltz’s Walter.
The two are efficiently supported by Krysten Ritter as Margaret’s friend Dianne, Jon Polito as Enrico Banducci, Danny Huston as the tabloid reporter Dick Nolan, Jason Schwartzman as the art gallery snob and Terence Stamp as John Canaday, the snooty New York Times art critic.
The production is of fine quality and the tone of the visuals are earthy and atmospheric. They capture the era with minute perfection.
Overall, “Big Eyes” is a fascinating tale simply told with good performances and without much complications.