Tim Burton continues to demonstrate his maturation as a director despite having a soft spot for the fantastic and the weird.
It's probably not a surprise that this film would receive generally mixed-to-good reviews but was virtually ignored by the Academy. It's a little too visually eccentric for its own good and that somehow translates as a film that uses beautiful images as its means to tell a story, and that in 2003 was not quite the type of movies that were being told with the exception of LORD OF THE RINGS which in itself is a triumph of effects serving a story, albeit deeply rooted in fantasy, but not too dissimilar to this one.
Tall tales are a part of Americana. Here they come under the guise of hilarious situations and extremely poignant, compassionate moments. Essentially, this is a humanist fable dressed in deep, poetic magic realism, because it's the story of a man who is dying and who has one last thing to do.
This man is Ed Bloom (Albert Finney), and he's over the years become estranged from his son William (Billy Crudup) because William has gotten increasingly jaded from these tall stories Ed tells him over and over again. We can call it the syndrome of someone who has lost touch with his inner self and has accommodated himself to the norms of Society and what It considers "normal" and "acceptable."
In his last days he recollects his memories from his much younger days (played by Ewan McGregor) when he hadn't found his calling until he came across a witch (Helena Bonham Carter) who foretold him his future. From then on he had what can be called a "hell of a life," going from seemingly implausible adventure to another. These exaggerated tales infuriates William until a crucial event forces him to acknowledge the essence of the matter -- Ed Bloom's reality -- and in one overwhelming tour de force of direction, William (clumsily at first, but then more sure of himself) creates his own storytelling, which I won't talk about. Suffice it is to say that its transition into reality is one of the most beautiful and moving sequences I've seen.
This is by far one of the best films Tim Burton has made in his curriculum of offbeat films. Solid performances are in leaps and bounds from the main actors to minor players -- the sad expression of a circus clown who has to shoot Ed because the wolf he is about to kill is actually Amos Calloway is a haunting shot, for example. Jessica Lange's quiet scene in a bathtub filled with water, hugging Ed and weeping. Alison Lohman caught in a frozen moment of time, which enhances her beauty. The moment when William re-enacts his own story and "carries" Ed out of the hospital which segues into the otherworldly, emotional climax. A beautiful ensemble piece, with otherworldly images, this is only second to LORD OF THE RINGS, a distant cousin, in absolute beauty and simplicity of its message.
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