Overview: The true story of artist Margaret Keane and her husband, who spent years earning fame and fortune by taking credit for her paintings. 2014; distributed by The Weinstein Company; rated PG-13; 106 minutes.
I’m Keane, You’re Keane: There is no question that Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz both give tremendous performances as Margaret and Walter Keane. Adams feels as if she were plucked right out of the 1950s, convincingly reflecting the mindset of a woman who spent her whole life being taught that no matter what, the man is the head of the household. She’s creative, timid, intelligent, and ambitious, and all of these qualities lend to her predicament, working to her benefit only when bravery is added back into the mix. We witness a hint of it each time she escapes to start over, but fear outweighs courage causing flight over fight, which only finally dissipates during the final scenes of the film.
Waltz is bursting with reckless, charismatic energy as the public face of the artist behind those big eyed paintings. He’s perfectly cast as a man who is able to use charm and quick witted verbosity to talk his way out of any corner and convince everyone, even his own wife, that he deserves his unearned empire. It’s almost a challenge to dislike the contagious excitement he exudes. His manipulation and dominance over Margaret is believable and serves as an accurate representation of how easily even modern women can fall under the spell of an an emotionally (and ultimately physically) abusive spouse.
Burton’s Big Eyes: Tim Burton’s unique directorial presence doesn’t feel nearly as heavy handed in Big Eyes; his quirky touches and influences taking a much more subtle approach than audiences are accustomed to. It might be his most restrained effort yet, and I’m not sure if I’m completely glad for that. The signature Burton vibe is rarely felt and only obvious in Keane’s brief blips of disorientation as she begins to see those around her looking back at her with those signature big eyes, which is a disturbingly gorgeous representation of the way Walter has drowned her in her work for his own benefit. I almost wish more of these devices had been used throughout the film, giving the story that extra boost of intensity it lacks. Something is missing here, and Burton really could have used this story about these odd, darkly beautiful paintings and the stormy relationship behind them to push the boundaries of his craft rather than slamming on the breaks for the sake of just telling the tale.