“The Big White”
“The Big White” is set in snow country and has a dark and offbeat sense of humor, and at its heart, it’s a crime thriller full of eccentric characters all trying to get away with something. Paul Barnell (Robin Williams) is an Alaskan travel agent who is struggling to pay the bills, He is so desperate for money, that he claims his missing brother Raymond should be presumed dead, if only to collect on his life insurance. Ted (Giovanni Ribisi) is the insurance man assigned to the case and who promptly turns Barnell down. Down but not out, Barnell gets an idea when he finds a dead man in the dumpster outside his office — he’ll claim the body is his missing brother in an accidental death settlement which will get him a million dollars. It’s not so easy, as Ted is ruthlessly skeptical and tenaciously vigilant in proving that Paul is scamming the insurance company. The result is a test of wills that is only further compounded when the hit men responsible for the unknown cadaver want their body back.
Robin Williams was one of the funniest men alive, and yet, somehow movies have never played to his strengths as a comedic actor. He is a very fine dramatic actor, though, but there’s just little drama in “The Big White” .
Holly Hunter steals most of her scenes with a terrific performance as the Paul’s wife. She suffers with Tourette’s Syndrome. Woody Harrelson comes in late in the film with another manic crackpot performance. It seems like the creators are desperate to squeeze out any laugh they can get, but they only manage to squeeze the life out of it altogether.
Director Mark Mylod must have thought that the casting of comedians and terrific character actors would make up for the fact that Collin Friesen’s script isn’t quite funny enough on its own. Unfortunately things rarely mesh well on any level and the entire tone of the film is uneven throughout.
Saying too much will spoil the movie but I can say that it survives because it is driven suffice to say, The Big White survives mainly because both events and characters working together.
The acting is good throughout with Ribisi again proving himself to be a fine character actor. The main problem lies with predictability and a fundamental lack of originality. The denouement, while pleasing enough can’t fully rescue the film and in the end the magic is missing.