The Vast of Night: Film Review

The Vast of Night - Wikipedia            The Vast of Night is an Amazon Prime original film, written and directed by first and only time director Andrew Patterson. The film, a sci-fi mystery thriller, is in many ways an homage to The Twilight Zone. It takes place in the late 1950’s, and centers around a switchboard operator in the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico, and her local radio host friend, as they discover an audio frequency which leads them down a dark and suspenseful path. The runs for an hour and a half, and stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz as Fay and Everett, the two protagonists.

Whoa. This was one frickin hell of a movie. Almost everything about it was absolutely spectacular, crafted to the tee with expertise and the kind of spooky, mysterious flair that makes it a perfect tribute to its source material (I say, not having seen any of The Twilight Zone).

The first fifteen minutes of this film are extraordinary. Sorkin himself couldn’t have written the hook of this film better, with quick, funny, stichomythic dialogue that, if you already know the film’s a sci-fi, would have you wondering if you clicked on the wrong film on Prime. We’ll be getting into how this film revolutionizes what a sci-fi film can be in a minute, but the first fifteen minutes are so brimming with flair and charisma, so incredibly engaging and pulsating, that you’re sold on this film before there’s even a real semblance of a plot. The credit goes to a combination of absolutely scintillating writing, a tone, visual and otherwise, that makes the situation convincing (that of a small town, everyone-knows-everyone atmosphere), extremely good characters, and the performances to match them. You fall for Everett and Fay and their whimsy and fast-talking charm straight away, and a large portion of credit goes to Horowitz and McCormick, who give them such life and vibrance in their portrayals. They’re brilliant the whole way through, but the job they do in those first fifteen deserves singling out for their contribution to a sequence that hooked its audience, sold its characters, and flowed smoother than…something that flows really smoothly, in a shockingly short amount of time.

Then the plot starts to get underway, and the film turns into something different. The Vast of Night is an unbelievably unique addition to the body of work that’s classed under the genres of “Sci-Fi” or “Thriller”. It’s a ponderous thriller, keeping away from visual excitement and choosing to tell a really suspenseful story through a really compelling lens: this small town community, where the fate of anyone affects the fate of everyone, and where strangeness has the tendency to be explained away. Everett and Fay are an intensely compelling face for that perspective, which comes through really well and makes that aspect, the narrative perspective, really unique in this genre. It was, perhaps, that perspective that drives the film’s focus on simplicity. Patterson and Co.’ve done an amazing job working with the tension and intrigue of the plot, but, unlike most films of this kind, they keep it pretty strictly simple. There aren’t a lot of questions Everett and Fay are presented with, nothing especially complex or confusing. There’s a focus there, “what is that?” is the only real conflict of the film, and the intrigue and mystery remains just as intense, possibly more, as a result of that. What isn’t simple is ambiguous, which escalates the same effect even further. There’s an extent to which, as a modern audience member, there actually isn’t much to be surprised by from the plot of this film. There are only two real explanations to what 1) the noise is and 2) what the hell is in the sky, so what’s really there to be so confused about? The answer to that isn’t to do with the content of what you see, which is simple. This film is an example of how, when simplicity is executed to near perfection, it can be just as if not more compelling than something complex and dense. In that sense, it is something of an antithesis to this genre, to which this film deserves to be a game-changer.

And it is only because of that near-perfect execution that this film works. Check Andrew Patterson’s IMDb page, and this film is the only thing you’ll find. The fact that a first time director could pull something like this off is baffling. It’s so visually striking, capturing the juxtaposition of a cozy, familiar town on a spooky and mysterious night, making you feel both and be aware of both at the same freaky time. The editing choices are marvelous. Long, nearly ten minute shots work so well when they’re used in the right places, just as quick, almost intense cuts make the penultimate scene with the old woman so. Damn. Good (really, such a well put-together scene. It was breathtaking). Added to that is an extremely expertly done score. It’s just fantastic, picking up on the tone of the scene perfectly and giving it creepy or Christmas-y vibes exactly when that’s what’s necessary. I personally found the to-and-fro with the retro television setup was a little gimmicky, but that was what helped to nail down the Twilight Zone effect, and it didn’t mar anything, so I don’t think I’d complain about it.

And, when it’s all over, there’s an interesting idea they choose to leave you with, those that are put in your head by the old lady, and kept there by the mysterious effect of those foreign words on people who, it would at least seem, have already seen what there is to be seen. As such, the mysteriousness persists, because the old lady’s ideas bring up questions that we didn’t have before, and the ambiguity that Everett and Fay leave behind stays with you well after the credits have rolled.

All in all, I was more than sufficiently blown away by this film. It comes back down to that idea of simplicity, weaponized by perfect execution to make for one of the most compelling, intriguing, and mysterious sci-fi films I’ve ever seen, and a remarkable film all around. I can only hope that Andrew Patterson does not choose to hang up his Final Draft account, because I’ll be first in line for whatever this guy does next. In the meantime, I could not recommend The Vast of Night highly enough. An absolute game-changer in the world of science fiction filmmaking.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 87/100                                                               Aryamaan’s Score –

Snowpiercer – Season 1: TV Review

Snowpiercer: Official Trailer | TNT - YouTube

Mid May saw the release of the Snowpiercer television series: a series adaptation and reinvention of the concept originated by Bong Joon Ho’s 2012 film by the same name. Following the same premise as that film, Snowpiercer is set 7 years after the governments of the world attempt to halt global warming by releasing a freezing chemical into the atmosphere, leading worldwide temperatures to drop to well below inhabitable levels, freezing the world over. What remains of humanity is preserved on a train called Snowpiercer, a marvel of engineering that runs on perpetual energy. However, tensions rise as the class system takes its shape, and the resources of the train are skewed towards the upper class passengers, leaving the passengers in the rear of the train, “the tail”, with barely enough to survive. Revolution ensues, but is halted after a murder up-train forces the governing powers to enlist the help of the leader of the rebellion, a former homicide detective, in restoring order. The series stars Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connelly, Mickey Summers, and Alison Wright among others. It is understood to be a completely different universe from that of Bong Joon Ho’s film.

My expectations for this series were quite high. I’m a big fan of the original film, which I’d strongly recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s brilliant; an incredible narrative premise, and an utterly fascinating ideological commentary on class, impeccably made and brilliantly performed. Considering that level of quality in its source material, the Snowpiercer series had a lot to live up to.

Ultimately, I’d say it absolutely lived up to that expectation. The Snowpiercer series is a classic case a story that gets better as it goes along. I watched this as it aired weekly (still the best way to watch things, in my opinion), and, after the first few episodes, it seemed like they had chosen to settle for 70% of the depth and density of the film. As the series goes on, however, that number goes up, as longer plays for character arcs over the whole season start to come good and how. I’d still say the film is a better individual piece of art, it has an urgency and a kind of mystery about it that maintains a much higher level of exhilaration throughout, a level that the show doesn’t hit until the last episode. But it’s a trade-off, and in exchange for that urgency and mystery, we get the benefit of a much deeper and more thorough look into the very unique world of Snowpiercer, and, as a result, we come to understand a much more pensive, detailed version of the same ideas, those of the injustice of a capitalist system and the nature of human power systems, sacrifice, and even some ideas that the film never gets a chance to address, like the chaos of what happens after you win, and how difficult change really is.

I should expand a bit, and give more weight to the extent to which the urgency of the show does increase impressively over the season’s run. An issue I heard people express as the first few episodes were dropping was that it felt less like an adaptation of Snowpiercer and more like a sort of glorified cop show with a more interesting but ultimately incidental premise. That lasts the first couple episodes, maybe even the first half of the season, but I’d argue that that period of time is essential to laying the ground work for the principal characters. Andre Layton is a really, really interesting man character for the series, with just as much emotional complexity, and, after 10 hours, more likeability than Chris Evan’s lead ever had in the film. That likeability comes not only from the extra time on screen, but the work of Daveed Diggs, who is really fantastic in this show, really embodying the constant contradiction of an unadulterated desire for equality and justice. He’s likeable, emotionally complex, given his past in the tail, and really well performed off paper. I can’t think what more could possibly be asked for. As good, if not better as a character, is Melanie Cavill. Again, the acting chops of a really strong principal cast brings to life a deeply complicated character in Melanie. She represents the realism of trying to maintain humanity, a really interesting ideological blend with Layton, and has her own emotional depth to with it. Hers might be the most compelling character situation of any character in either the film or this series: she’s the literal unsung hero, fighting with every ounce of her wits to keep the train running and order, enough of it for the human race to be prolonged. It’s an almost neutral position, but from a place of real heart. The oxymoron writes itself, and that internal conflict makes her the best character on the show. But, as I’ve said many times, a really good film or show needs a supporting cast that pulls more than just their weight, and this show has them. Mickey Summers’ growth in the character of Bess Till is excellent, matched by the Folgers and LJ, the only actual villains in the show. Even Alison Wright’s character, Ruth, who annoyed the crap out of me for the vast majority of the show, more than serves her narrative purpose, presenting the necessary, however irritating, ideological aspect of Wilford’s deification. All of these characters are excellent, in the writing, dynamics, and performances.

But all of that would be a lot less meaningful if they didn’t add up to a narrative that does the premise justice, which it absolutely ends up doing. After spending most of the first half of the season playing cops and robbers and working to deliver justice to a murder, the narrative arc of the season turns to the meat of the idea of the Snowpiercer, the rebellion, and the survival. The regularity of high-stakes, life and death level suspense suddenly spikes hard, and the characters that the show spends so long setting up for you start being put in situations that do justice to the point of this premise. The show becomes about rebellion for Layton and the tail, about the burden of carrying human survival on her back for Melanie and the engineers, and about seizing power for the Folgers and first. That’s no longer the slightly thin whodunnit of the first half, that’s narrative content worthy of Snowpiercer.

Not only are the suspense and stakes that much higher, they maintain the mystery. Having seen the film, I had the sense that I could predict at least some of what was to come. As the last two episodes came and went, I realized how wrong I was. The last two episodes of this show are what justify it as an entirely different storyline from the film, a different universe from the film. I want to try to keep this from being a spoiler review, so I won’t go into too much detail, but the last two episodes go in a direction that having seen the film doesn’t really prepare you for. There are things you know, things you can guess based on the film that remain true, but the last two episodes, especially the last half of the last episode, do something to expand the universe of Snowpiercer in a way I certainly didn’t predict, and make me so excited to see where they’ll take this extremely exciting narrative line in the next season.

All in all, I was very pleased with the first season of Snowpiercer. After reading about production roadblocks and stalling, I was somewhat trepidatious, and, even after the first few episodes had dropped, I was resigned to the expectation that they were settling for less with this series. I was wrong, they turned it around, and what started out only ‘half-decent’ grows into itself in a big way. The film is probably a better standalone piece of art, if only because of that urgency that I mentioned before, but they do a decent job of mimicking that urgency in the last few episodes, as well as putting forward a fascinating, deep look into the nuances of one of the most interesting fiction premises out there. The first season of Snowpiercer is worthy of the lofty reputation of its source material, and I for one am extremely excited for its second season.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 79/100                                                   Aryamaan’s Score –

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Film Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) - IMDb

Among the most critically acclaimed films of the last few years is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which was released in 2017 to rampant Awards season buzz and general acclaim, which went on to become two acting Oscars and a host of other critical accolades. The film is loosely based on a true story, and centres around a mother of a murder and rape victim, who’s frustration with the lack of arrests in her daughter’s case leads her to rent out three billboards just outside the town, demanding action, and implying incompetence. The film is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, a creator with a notorious comic style. It stars a laundry list of talent including Francis McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, and Caleb Landry Jones among others.

This was one of those films that I’d been intending to watch since I’d heard about it, but somehow only got around to just now. It seemed a strange combination to me: Martin McDonagh, whom I’d only experienced through In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, two hilarious and pretty outwardly comedic films, doing a film whose plot didn’t seem very funny.

That strange mixture ended up being by far the most remarkable thing about a phenomenal film. The blend of heartbreak and comedy, and the intensity of those two tones, is a feat the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film pull off before. Scenes spring to mind – Harrelson’s suicide, McDormand speaking to her slippers, Rockwell throwing a guy out of a window – which are crafted with such an expert and precise balance of funny and brokenness that it leaves you laughing and crying simultaneously, shocked with horror, but kind of amused at the same time. It’s a weird feeling, not unlike having your heart squeezed on both sides, but it makes for a really interesting dramatic experience and a whirlwind of emotions, coming and going at the same time.

But that melding of tones between comedy and dramatic could never have happened if the actors on screen hadn’t performed the absolute hell out of a strong text they’d been given, and Three Billboards hits home on both accounts. The writing is extremely good, if ever so slightly clunky in brief moments, and it maintains that level of quality in its broader strokes and its syntax together. The acting caliber, however, is of a shocking level. Francis McDormand does things that left my jaw on the floor, of which the scene I mentioned with the slippers is a perfect example. She was probably the best example of someone who managed to tie together the comedy and the tragedy, bringing the surface level funniness and the deep, profound sorrow of her situation all at the same time. Her Oscar for Best Actress could not have been more well-deserved. Sam Rockwell is another who does an incredible job, as well as the other who earned an Oscar for his efforts. He’s absurdly convincing as Dickson; the simple (to put it generously) and violent past, one of the few characters to undergo a proper and full character arc (more on that in a minute). Harrelson is as he always is, absurdly likeable and funny, with the emotional wherewithal to get where he needs to be for the more emotional scenes. In his wisdom, McDonagh’s given him a character that plays to those strengths, and he does the job extremely well. A great ensemble performance, however, is one where supporting cast steals scenes when that is what’s asked of them, and Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, and Caleb Landry Jones are just some of a cast who do staggeringly well in this film.

And it is only through those exceptional, top drawer performances that the ideas of this film, and the tonal blend come across as potently as they do. It all helps to being across this helpless, greyness to the story: a situation where no one’s particularly right, and everyone’s at least a little bit wrong. Harrelson and his performance was the linchpin there. You felt, so deeply for McDormand and her loss, and you feel her guilt, and for the first fifteen minutes or so of the film the impression is one of moral righteousness on her part. But then Harrelson comes in, with his likability and personal circumstances, and now you’re rooting for two sides that look fundamentally opposed. One of my favorite scenes in the film was Harrelson’s voice over for his letter to McDormand’s character, which really exemplified both of their pain, and their mutual understanding of that pain in each other. It was profoundly melancholic, and that emotion ends up being the prevailing idea of this film. It bleeds through to the end, which is frustratingly dissatisfying and unfulfilling. And then, alongside this push and pull between McDormand and Harrelson, is Rockwell’s character, Dickson, the only character with a real arc, which comes good just as frustrating and heartbreaking a way as the rest of the film.

Three Billboards met and exceeded my expectations by some distance. It’s a fabulous film, extremely watchable visually with a pulsating comedic heartbeat over a blanket of tragedy that makes for an endless juxtaposition you simply cannot look away from. Add to that a coherent ideological angle, some really well weaved music, and a cast of actors who’ve left it all on the screen, and you’re looking at one among the best films of the last few years. You simply must give it a watch.

– Aman Datta.

Aman’s Score – 86/100                                                             Aryamaan’s Score –

Hamilton – The Movie: Film Review

Hamilton (2020 film) - Wikipedia

Regarded as one of the greatest plays of all time, Hamilton: An American Musical was recently brought to the screen by Disney Plus. The film, a recording of a stage performance by the Original Cast of Hamilton, was released just hours ago at time of writing. Hamilton is a musical about the first US Treasury Secretary: Alexander Hamilton. It plots the course of his life, and the impact he and other Founding Fathers had on the shaping of America as a nation, through its revolution and its institutional birth. It was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, who also stars in the show as the titular lead. He, along with Alex Lacamoire, wrote the music for the show, which also stars Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Chris Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Johnathan Groff among others. It is based on Ron Chernow’s biography: Alexander Hamilton.

I happen to have had the privilege of watching Hamilton live, in London. With that, and the fact that Hamilton is one of my favourite things in the known universe, in mind, it was in my head as the unfortunate reality that my watching of this film was cursed with comparison; that I would instinctively compare everything I saw to how it was live, and that its quality would be measured by how faithfully it renders the real thing. Incredibly, even had that been the case, I was not to be disappointed.

Hamilton the movie is spectacular. It captures a shocking amount of the live show’s energy for a recording, by way of some really cool camera work (not a hundred percent sure how they did some of it, gonna have to check that out later) and a quality of audio recording that, aside from just being clear, actually translates a surprising amount of the depth that exists in a theatre into the sound. While that does occasionally come at the expense of lyrical clarity – it’s obviously not as clear as the studio recordings – it does help keep a lot of the magic, which is an incredibly commendable thing. If you’re anything like me, however, and you already knew every word of the show before going into it, it’s a fantastic translation, both visually and musically.

Then we come to the actual show. I’ve never been shy about telling anyone who’ll listen that I think Hamilton is arguably the single greatest piece of art, period. Seriously, it’s The West Wing, and it’s Hamilton. The lyrical genius of this show is only matched by the musical ingenuity that was required to put it on stage. It is only that genius that was able to make Hamilton much more than a biographical recounting of just one man’s life. Hamilton is a story about the idea of America, the idea of revolution, of freedom, of responsibility, and of legacy. But those are just words, easy enough to say, but very rarely actualized in a way that’s particularly compelling. Hamilton makes those ideas feel real, using the life of Hamilton, the least talked about of the Founders, as a vessel through which to communicate those ideas. But it takes more than that, which is where we come to nitty-gritty of just how brilliant Lin Manuel’s lyrics are. A motif can be powerful because it reoccurs, and that reoccurrence gives it meaning. But words like “Death doesn’t discriminate”, “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder”, “The room where it happened”, “History has its eyes on you”, and honestly close to every third line in this damn play contribute to an illustration of an unfathomably meaningful reflection on American history. Even fundamentally simpler bits, bits like “Wait for it”, so fully encapsulate a character like Burr, so fully encapsulate a point of view, that there’s just nothing one can do but lie back and watch, mouth ajar.

And it does it all while giving what really ought to be boring a dynamic, funny, and just generally contemporary feel. Hip-Hop really is the only way to make financial systems and cabinet meetings interesting, and Hamilton is exactly that. It’s a marvel, and for that credit goes to a large number of people. Its visual tone is extremely distinct, which is certainly part of what catches the eye about it. Add it’s choreography, which is genius in its own right (I’m thinking of songs like “Yorktown” and “Hurricane”), and some top notch performances, and we’re getting as close to perfect as it’s possible to get.

The performances really do deserve a mention of their own. Lin Manuel’s Hamilton is pretty much perfect, if for no other reason than this interpretation of his character really belongs to him by now. He’s not the best actor or the best singer on stage, but there’s something about his voice, the ownership he has over it all, that helps make him one of the best fits on stage (and it’s worth mentioning that Hamilton’s role is more acting to a beat than singing because Lin preferred it that way for himself). Then come the other absolute powerhouses. I want to say there’s a special mention to be given, but that would involve choosing some, and I can’t do that. Renee Elise Goldsberry is a goddamned…I don’t even know. She’s incredible. The same can be said for Phillipa Soo. I should say that the Eliza I saw on stage in London was damn good, but Phillipa Soo’s Eliza is jaw dropping, across every end of the emotional spectrum she brings to it. Daveed Diggs Has more charisma and presence in his legs than 10 good actors, and is arguably the best piece of casting with the double role. I also just want to say that there is only one Johnathan Groff, and he’s priceless.

Hamilton’s timeliness is extremely important. It’s a stressful time, “unprecedented”, as I’ve read in just a couple of places, and there’s an instinct to face the worst with defeatism and helplessness. Hamilton, aside from addressing some of the issues we see today, tangentially and otherwise, is about a greater spirit, one of fight and rising up. Now is the time to pay attention to the message of this piece of genius, and it’s exactly the right time for it to be made available to more people. So make the most of it. Watch it. There is almost nothing I’d recommend more.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 91/100                                                                Aryamaan’s Score –

About Time: Film Review

About Time' is now available on Netflix

From the creator of Love Actually and Notting Hill, Richard Curtis, About Time is a film about a young man who discovers his ability to travel back to moments in his own life to do them differently. Far from a sci-fi, however, it turns into a heart-warming, life-affirming quest for love and happiness. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Margot Robbie, Lydia Wilson, Vanessa Kirby, and Tom Hollander among others. As mentioned, the film is written and directed by Richard Curtis, whose previous works include Love Actually, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

I love this movie, very dearly. It got off to a really rocky start, injecting a tonal-ly inappropriate premise that belongs in a film of a slightly different genre, then goes on to trivialise it. Hard. The first scene where Bill Nighy sits Domhnall down and drops the small atomic bomb of “men-in-the-family-can-time-travel-by-the-way” is comically out of place, and for Domhnall’s character’s first and only wish as far as exploiting this new and generally unexplained power to be to “get a girlfriend” is really very strange. All in all, fifteen or so minutes in, and you’re looking at your watch.

But them something extraordinary happens. The hike in quality and consistency isn’t sudden. It’s a gradual climb, right up until the end, at which point the lacklustre opening salvo has grown into a beautiful, calmly emotional, and intensely bitter-sweet life lesson which you wish could never end. If I had to put a pin on a turning point, it would be Rachel McAdams’ introduction to the story. The chemistry between her and Gleeson is perfect, picture perfect, making for a genuinely exhilarating will-they-won’t-they via his time travel antics. But then it works out, and that’s when the film catapults into a realm that I don’t know many rom-coms to have done before. It’s not necessarily the norm to see a film like this have narrative legs after the couple gets together. Rom-come tend to be about a relationship coming together in a dramatic way, and, when that happens, there isn’t much more story left to tell. About Time smashes that formula to smithereens, aiming to be about something much larger and more substantive than a typical film of its kind. The time travel element of it becomes incidental, a tool that’s used to present its characters and its audience with challenging questions and circumstances, forcing choice and prioritization of different kinds of love. The whole way through, you find yourself absolutely terrified that he’s going to make some horrible time travel mistake and ruin everything, but it never really happens. Instead, Gleeson’s character is presented with more…pensive challenges. He’s asked about what this power he has can mean for his happiness, what things he’s willing to change, aware of the cost, and how he inevitably has to prioritize the things that are precious to him in his life. It’s an incredible spin on a slightly tired idea, no one will be drawing continuity diagrams for this film.

And the ideologies and conclusions that are arrived at over the course of dealing with those challenges are beautiful. In a lot of ways, this film is an unacademic philosophy lecture about happiness and balance. It’s propagative of an idea, one of living wholly and positively, with an understanding of what is good and bad in the world, and it comes across so extremely well. Credit has to go to Curtis. This has, I believe, replaced Notting Hill as my favourite of his works. It actually much the same job that was done by Love Actually, but in a much less goofy, altogether more potent way, the show version of that film’s tell. I should also applaud the fabulous work done by Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy, who illustrate one of the most wonderful father-son relationships I’ve ever seen on screen, as well as Rachel McAdams, whose chemistry with Gleeson, as I mentioned, is astounding, completely selling their romance. The mark of a really good collective performance, however, is the quality of a supporting cast, and the likes of Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, and Lydia Wilson have absolutely outdone themselves.

I was completely taken aback by this film. I went into it expecting another rom-com, something fun, but nothing I hadn’t seen before. My expectations haven’t been that off in quite some time. After an undeniably weird first 15 minutes or so, which cannot be discounted, About Time grows into itself in a big way. There remain some slightly problematic inconsistencies as far as the time traveling goes, but, as I said, it really couldn’t matter less. It’s not what the film is about. This is a film about much larger things, and I for one was thoroughly impressed with the deftness and sensitivity that Curtis and Co. have employed to bring out a message that I think many of us could really do to hear right about now. This is a beautiful film, that I’d strongly recommend you watch.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 84/100                                                             Aryamaan’s Score –

Big Fish: Film Review

Big Fish - Wikipedia

An odd ray of sunshine in Tim Burton’s body of work is Big Fish. Big Fish is the story of the relationship between a tall-tale telling father and his son. It revolves around the supposedly incredible life story of Edward Bloom, played by Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney across timelines, who, as a father, chose to spin fantastical stories about the events of his life. As his son, played in the film by Billy Crudup, grows older, he realizes his father’s stories couldn’t possibly be true, and tries to discern the reality of his father’s life from the magical nonsense of the stories he’d been told. The film is, as mentioned, directed by Tim Burton, an ever so slight deviation from his personal normal. It also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Marion Cotillard, Danny DeVito, and Jessica Lange among others.

This might not end up being the longest review I’ve ever written, there not being much in terms of volume to say about this film, but I’ve no doubt it’ll be up there with the most satisfying. I knew of this film only by reputation, as a generally upbeat Tim Burton movie, and as an extremely well regarded piece of children’s film. Any self-respecting piece of children’s entertainment can be appreciated equally, though in different ways, from the adult eye, and I, being a massive fan of the art-form of children’s entertainment, was pretty excited to see what it had to offer.

I was absolutely not disappointed. Big Fish is a delightful film, not nearly as silly as I’d heard of it, but maintaining a constant tone of playfulness that keeps an audience member smiling all throughout. It’s pretty hilarious, with a more brand of comedy that finds the middle ground between sophisticated and childish avenues, and it does that while furthering a weirdly engrossing storyline. It’s hard to avoid being unendingly charmed by Edward and his nonsense. After a point, you even start to feel a strange sense of familiarity with the places and characters of his stories, as they start to develop a pretty genuine continuity and an inter-relatedness that sells you completely on this crazy roller-coaster of a second life Edward has led

But what sets this film apart is the messaging. Big Fish is brimming with wisdom, subtle and otherwise, and, in both of the two stories it’s telling, the fiction and the reality, adding up to one big profound life lesson about getting too comfortable, acceptance, priority, and love. The way they weave themes into this film is wonderful, masked with meaningful symbols and metaphors, which left me completely in awe of the philosophical content of the film. On the flipside, in the realm of reality, there’s a really interesting comment about the way we tend to look at our lives, the positive, the negative, and the virtues and vices of truth. In that sense, Edward Bloom is a divisive character. While there are a lot of things about his behavior that inspires me, and makes me itch for the day that I get to tell stories to my kids, he definitely took it way too far. For the purposes of the film and all it says, however, I’ll take an extremist of a lead character.

It’s helpful, of course, to be technically strong. John August, the screenwriter who adapted the novel by Daniel Wallace, has done an incredible job. Performance-wise, I wouldn’t say there were any fireworks, though McGregor was plenty convincing, which was necessary to sell a character as distinct as the one he was tasked with playing, and he and Finney match up pretty well. Helena Bonham Carter, as well, should be applauded. The idea of her in a Tim Burton movie is an inherently frightening one, but she proved that she’s capable of playing more than creepy and deranged.

Ultimately, though, the magic of this movie comes from the ideas inherent to the story and the writing, for which I suppose the maximum amount of credit has to go to Daniel Wallace and the novel. I absolutely adored this film. It’s engaging, centers around a thoroughly interesting lead character, and leads you down a rabbit hole’s worth of interesting plot. I’d recommend it to anyone, for an enjoyable time, and more than a few pearls of wisdom. No film has it all, but this one has a lot.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 83/100                                                                      Aryamaan’s Score –