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BIG FISH (article first published : 2004-03-28)

Tim Burton is one of the most magical of American film directors and his latest, the spellbinding Big Fish, is among the finest of his impressive list of classics which include Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas and the first two Batman films.

The tall story that is this 125-minute shimmer of enchantment is based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, whose flits between fact and fantasy, past and present, provide perfect clay for a master moulder noted for lending fascinating shape to all things fantastical.

Big Fish is the rambling, engrossing tale of a man long noted for his tall stories, one Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) who, after years of white lies and repetition of his fanciful fibs, wears down his son, Will (Billy Crudup), to the point that the two no longer speak to one another.

However, when Edward falls gravely ill with cancer, Will and his pregnant young wife head back to his old home, where they are welcomed by his mother (Jessica Lange) and Will tries to get to grips with who his father really is.

All Edward's life, it seems, has been a case of one measure of truth, to three measures of flamboyant fabrication - and Will wants to sort out the fact from the fantasy, find some sign of an anchor of emotional reality. But it proves no mean task. And as the charismatic old raconteur discusses his life with his son – in glossy, glorious flashbacks showcasing a wonderful Ewan McGregor as the young Edward and Alison Lohman as the young Lange - so we piece together an understanding of larger-than-life character passionate about life and love.

A werewolf, a bankrobbing poet, a fairytale town, a sad giant, bewitched trees, a spider-filled forest, talented conjoined twins, a taciturn witch with a glass eye that can fortell the way one will meet one's death, and, of course, a giant fish ... all crop up in a tangle of tales that fire the imagination.

The film gushes with memorable moments and wonderful visuals, among them a scene involving circus acts freezing in the sawdust ring when the young Edward first lays eyes on the woman he will marry.

And the final moments of the film, tinged with warmth and a certain sadness, are among the most enchanting captured on screen in some while.

Performances are uniformally good among a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Danny De Vito and Helena Bonham Carter (in a dual role), while Burton is back on brilliant form after recent slip-ups with the weak Planet of the Apes remake and the too-silly Mars Attacks!.

As one critic abroad has noted - with Big Fish, Burton puts the "aah" in “bizarre” and the "ooh" in “skewed” to fashion what is the most beguiling, witty and warm film so far this year. See it and be hooked! Rating: 9/10. - Billy Suter




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