This movie failed me on many levels. I want to tell you that it’s still a movie worth watching, it’s not horrendous, and it’s a fascinating story. I want to tell you that, and I suppose I have, but I also can’t help but tell you the rest.
First: Christoph Waltz. So miscast. He runs through the movie like a bull in a china shop. It’s like he decided to approach this role as a Jim-Carrey-in-The-Mask impersonation, with a peekaboo German accent, and maybe whiffs of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, just for kicks. When he was on screen, and he almost always was, I could barely suppress my urge to yell “Cut!” Where was director Tim Burton in all of this? Has Burton spent too long in kooky, make believe worlds that he can’t even tell what’s real anymore? It certainly felt to me like he was out of his depth. Waltz’s portrayal of Walter Keane was artless and unrestrained. Yes, he plays a schmoozy con man who takes credit for his wife’s art for years, but this was also a real man and Waltz does not convey for one second that he has a single genuine, authentic bone in his entire body.
Amy Adams as the quashed artist Margaret Keane didn’t quite satisfy either. I kept hearing in the script Margaret fighting back a little with bitterness and sarcasm, but Adams couldn’t carry them off. She’s too mousey and breathy.
My biggest problem, though, is this. The movie is about a woman who is passively (and then maybe not so passively) abused for years. Her husband steals from her, takes away the thing of which she is most proud, and intimidates her into silence, forcing her to live in secret, isolation, and near-sweatshop conditions. And the era in which she lives doesn’t provide a whole lot of viable alternatives. But the movie itself is another act of subjugation. She’s not really the star of her own story. It’s Christoph Waltz who dominates the screen. He’s allowed to steal the scenes. Amy Adams can never inject her character with enough backbone to compete. He walks all over her. This turns out to not be the story of her stolen art, but about his swindle. You need only look at the movie poster for proof.
So that’s how you ruin a mediocre movie. You take a powerful story and you tell it from the entirely wrong perspective. It’s as if the movie itself hasn’t learned its own lesson, and in 2015, that’s a heartbreak.