The Big White Review
I sat down to watch One Hour Photo again the other day and wondered what Robin Williams was up to as it seemed a shame that he hadn't continued to build on his movie career....then I came across The Big White. I'd never even heard of it, which is normally not a good sign, however a quick look at the cover showed a promising cast - Williams, Holly Hunter, Gioviani Ribisi, Woody Harrelson... could this be a hidden gem? I couldn't gather much more information about it from the packaging as it was all written in Thai and from what I could see, there were no other DVD versions available anywhere else. So, I settled down to watch this movie completely unaware of what to expect - a rare treat in these days of super efficient marketing. Without spoiling the plot, what we have here is a black comedy in a similar vein to Fargo (or A Simple Plan) probably partly due to it's Alaskan setting. Paul Barnell is a troubled Travel Agent, behind on his mortgage payments, stuck in a boring job and with his wife Margeret (Holly Hunter) suffering from a severe case of Tourettes syndrome. His brother has been missing, presumed dead for 5 years and his one hope is that he can claim on his brother's life insurance policy to try and sort his finances out and to take his wife away to Hawaii in the hope that she will get better. Unfortunately for Paul, he is informed by conscientious insurance worker Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) that although his brother has been missing for 5 years they cannot proceed until at least 7 years have passed because there was no body to prove the death.
Coincidently that day, two hit men dispose of their most recent target in a dumpster outside of Paul's office and leave it there until they can return with their client to prove they have done their work and get their payment. You can now see where this story is going... yep, Paul stumbles upon the corpse and hatches a plan to fake the death of his brother, fool the insurance company and collect an Accidental Death payment of $1 million for his Life Insurance policy. The movie twists and turns as Paul tries to play everyone off against each other and as you can imagine in true black comedy style, nothing goes smoothly as Paul gets in over his head. Ted the insurance worker gets suspicious and the two hit men return to collect their body (and their money)!
This movie is a quirky little number, it slipped under the radar and has ended up on Region 3 DVD for some reason. It contains a good cast, is well acted (especially by Holly Hunter as the Tourettes suffering wife) and has some spectacular cinematography thanks to its Alaskan back drop. You might not know anything about this movie, but British readers will certainly have seen some of Director Mark Mylod's previous works, including Shameless, Ali G Indahouse, The Royle Family, Shooting Stars and so on. Perhaps this will help to make this movie more popular here than it has been in America. The acting is generally very good - Williams plays the subdued every-man very well. I don't think this role stretches him as far as he can go and I would like to see him enter even darker territory than he did with One Hour Photo and Insomnia. Here I feel he is upstaged by Holly Hunter as his wife Margeret. She portrays a Tourettes sufferer with great sensitivity but also with a touch of comedy making her character one of the highlights of the movie. The other cast members add to the eclectic mix with Ribisi and Harrelson playing the type of quirky characters that they have become renowned for. Another note of praise should go to James Glennon for his cinematography - the movie is set in Alaska and the visuals are spectacularly bleak yet powerful. There are some wonderful shots that highlight this and add to the oppressive feeling that some of the characters have living there.
Before you rush off and buy this movie, I must balance my review by saying there is usually a reason why films appear on DVD with little fuss and hype - this one unfortunately is no exception. The movie is perfectly watchable; however it suffers in comparison to movies such as Fargo. It is not particularly original and as is often the case with Black Comedies, is neither particularly funny nor dark - it ends up somewhere in the middle. It's a decent movie and it is the drama element that is probably its strongest element - especially the relationships between Williams and Hunter and Ribisi and his girlfriend. There are worse films that seem to get more coverage than films like this - but equally there are better films that have for some reason not gotten the recognition they deserved. The Big White certainly should do well in the rental market but if a US/UK DVD is ever released for the home market I doubt if it will set the world alight as although the movie doesn't excel in any area, it is just middle of the road entertainment.