In Tim Burton’s latest effort, Big Eyes, there is no sign of Johnny Depp and instead Amy Adams paints in secret as Margaret Keane while Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane takes credit for the the big eyed children in his wife’s paintings. This true tale is based upon the 1980s court case where the artistic couple went to battle in a Honolulu courtroom to prove who really was the creator of the “waifs” who took the world by storm, earned Mr. Keane millions and made fans of Hollywood stars who commissioned paintings done that featured the large eyed children.
The film shows the backstory of Margaret who, with her one child, leaves her overbearing first husband in 1958 driving from the crackerbox suburb where she lives with the young girl in the backseat. The woman heads to San Francisco and starts working in a furniture factory painting Humpty Dumpty on baby cribs with a lot of other artists. On her days off, she draws portraits in the park. It is there that she meets her future husband Walter who is selling his oil paintings.
Nothing is seen of the charming flirtatious Mr. Keane, the audience only know what he relays to Margaret. According to the dapper ladies man, he trained to be a painter in Paris, France. Later in the film a gallery owner whom the man approaches, and has apparently done so repeatedly, says to Walter, after he trots out the tale of his time abroad, that he was only in the country for a week. This man refuses to let Keane show his work in the gallery.
By this time in the film Walter and Margaret are married and Big Eyes tells the story of how Mrs. Keane, played by Amy Adams, painted the pictures of children in secret while her husband took credit for her artistry. These paintings of youngsters have been described as having “doe eyes” are said to look haunted, miserable, creepy and scary. In reality, different people saw various things emanating from the portraits of children that became a phenomenon in the 1950s and 60s.
Margaret’s husband was the salesman in the marriage and his charm could disappear in an instant when he was upset. This Jekyll and Hyde character apparently terrorised his wife for years with threats of getting someone to kill her from his mafia connections.
Adams, plays the artist with a vulnerable honesty and gives Margaret a shy depth of feeling. When she explains why she paints focussing on the children’s eyes, the audience believer her. Just as they do when she gets upset at Walter the first time he confesses to claiming her art as his own. The 40 year old actress gave her character a naivety and desperation that is heartrending and one sympathises with this gentle creative soul in Big Eyes.
Waltz as Walter Keane, come across like many of the characters he has portrayed in other films. Charming one instant and vicious the next. While the Django Unchained star does a good job of showing just how manipulative and egotistical Keane apparently was, the real Walter died in 2000, the character of Walter was just too similar to other parts that Christoph has played. That being said, there are few actors who can so convincingly become that scary in a split second.
Big Eyes, with Amy Adams’ character painting in secret while her dastardly husband takes all the credit, is a brilliant bit of work from Tim Burton, it could actually be classed as the best thing he has done in ages. In terms of set design and costumes, the film feels like a literal step back into the 1950s and 60s. The fashions, hairstyles, cars and furniture all scream authenticity, right along with the black and white television broadcasts that feature in some scenes. Like a lot of other films, Big Eyes is due to open on Christmas day, 2014. Be prepared to get caught up in this true life tale of deception and personal triumph.
By Michael Smith
Regal Village Square Theatre