"There is a picture of my movie on a milk carton. Have you seen this movie? It's missing
I don't know what happened to it
it's a funny movie... a strange movie. But it's literally one of those productions where you go... phht, gone. Not even straight to DVD, just gone."
Some movies just don't stand a chance. Orson Welles and Sergio Leone both suffered the frustrations of seeing beloved productions sabotaged in front of their eyes. (Well, in Welles' case, "The Magnificent Ambersons" was chopped by fifty minutes while he was out of the country, but I imagine he ultimately would have felt the same as Leone, whose "Once Upon a Time in America" was butchered by Warner Bros.' editor and mangled into a two-hour mess.) But occasionally something even worse happens the film just totally disappears. Jerry Lewis was passionate about "The Day the Clown Cried" until he saw the final cut which was presumably bad enough that it caused him to vow never to let anyone see it. He is in possession of the only negative in existence which is tucked away in a vault inside his home. He wouldn't even let his daughter watch it. For all the people involved in the production of the film, it must have felt like a rug had been pulled from under their feet. Work under grueling conditions and persevere for countless hours on a crowded movie set only to realize your efforts will never be seen by anyone? "The Big White" is such a film after generating less-than-enthusiastic reviews at a handful of North American and European screenings, its worldwide distributor, Capitol Films, pulled the plug and decided not to release it into theaters at the risk of losing money on advertising. The film died a silent death and disappeared for two years, before finally surfacing on DVD in Canada and Asian markets thanks to Alliance-Atlantis films. It has subsequently gained a small cult following and sales overseas have been better than expected.
Comparisons to "Fargo" (and there have been many) are valid. Screenwriter Collin Friesen mimics the Coen Brothers' penchant for wickedly dark humor, and even places his film in a snowy setting in the Yukon (the film was shot on location as well as in Winnipeg). Even the plot is similar: a down-on-his-luck businessman (played by Robin Williams) cannot afford to help his troubled wife (Holly Hunter), who seems to suffer from some type of "stress"-induced tourette's syndrome, and decides to cash in on the long absence of his brother (Woody Harrelson) by passing him off as legally dead and gaining a $1,000,000 life insurance payment. Unfortunately, Canadian law demands that a person be missing for more than ten years to be declared legally dead. So when Williams finds a dead body in a dumpster outside his office (the temporary storage place for two bumbling hit men who never suspect anyone will find the body), he passes it off as his brother and collects a check.
But a claims inspector (Giovanni Ribisi) is suspicious of the sudden appearance of this long-lost brother, and as he begins to investigate realizes what is really going on. Meanwhile, Williams' wife is kidnapped by the two hit men who want back their dead body, and brother Woody Harrelson returns after reading about his "death" in a paper demanding a portion of the paycheck.
The finale is violent and unexpected, but the build-up is, at times, deliberately pretentious and decidedly "low-budget" and if you've seen any independent film of the last ten years or so, you'll understand what this means. Long, artsy shots of nothingness; excessively quirky characters; brutal humor; vicious sarcasm.
But it's a fun movie. It's no "Fargo" but director Mark Mylod keeps it moving along at a steady pace. Williams phones in another twisted performance, but it's Giovanni and his girlfriend in the movie, played by Alison Lohman, who really stand out along with Hunter as Williams' oddball wife. Although her profane outbursts become annoying after a while, for the most part Hunter manages to balance the humor and pathos correctly.
For fans of dark humor or independent features this is one worth checking out. It will appeal to some viewers very much, and others will probably loathe it. I found it to be agreeably distracting and thought its saving graces were standout performances by its cast. Apart from this, however, you'd be better off watching "Fargo" again.