Big Eyes

A drama about the awakening of the painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.

The final film of 2014 for me is an entertaining tale about Walter & Margaret Keane, a married couple who made a significant sum of money from paintings of children with big eyes in the late 50’s and early 60’s. What makes this particular story ripe pickings for a film is that the paintings were created by Margaret, although it was Walter who took all the credit in the public domain (under the pretense that ‘lady-art’ wouldn’t have sold in those days), and this inevitably led to conflict further down the line. The film is directed by Tim Burton, and whilst this is a more toned down piece of work (more akin to ‘Ed Wood‘ than to any of Burton’s more recent efforts), it still maintains a certain visual flair, particularly when we get to see the world through Margaret’s viewpoint.

Of course, what also elevates the material is the central duo, and both Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are terrific as the Keane’s. Waltz’s Walter has a huge larger than life presence and his charismatic performance showcases his skills as a salesman and as a public figure, tricking the world into believing he was responsible for the paintings. Adams is more understated in her role, and she is perfect at conveying her internal hurt and sadness that her deeply personal works are being claimed by her husband. In the initial stages, she isn’t willing to push back too much at Walter and is undoubtedly happy at the money and lifestyle that the success brings, but as time goes on these feelings of hurt and regret only intensify. It doesn’t help that Walter’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and violent, and the Jekyll and Hyde nature of his character becomes more prominent.

One of the things the film does particularly well is provide a view on why the ‘Big Eyes‘ paintings were so successful and it is undoubtedly true that Walter played a big part in it. Margaret was a quieter personality, and whilst she clearly had the talent for creating the paintings, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that the primary reason behind their wild success was largely down to Walter’s ability as a salesman to publicise the art extremely well. Whilst Walter was a compulsive liar and a dangerous personality, the success of the paintings would have been unlikely without both of their involvement. The supporting cast (Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Terence Stamp, Jason Schwartzman, Jon Polito) isn’t given a huge amount to do – this is clearly the Waltz and Adams show, but it’s great in particular to see Jon Polito on the big screen again, who is always an entertaining presence.

Overall, ‘Big Eyes‘ is an entertaining and at times, rather funny biopic about an unusual tale, featuring two terrific lead performances from Waltz and Adams, and it’s a good way to finish off 2014.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Danny Huston, Jon Polito and Terence Stamp

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