Obviously channeling Fargo, this Alaskan-set dark comedy has a surprisingly robust cast of stars lead by Robin Williams. It’s sick, it’s twisted, and if this is your style of humor, The Big White will assuredly grab your attention.
Williams plays Paul Barnell, a down on his luck travel agent looking for a quick boost to his bank account. For a comedy, Williams is surprisingly low key, only once using his usual repertoire of goofy voices, and even this is somber. His character decides to cash in on his brother’s life insurance policy since he’s been missing five years. Without a body he’s unable to do so, and stumbles upon a dead man in a dumpster which he claims as his brother.
Said body happens to be wanted by a group of criminals, and the insurance agent (Giovanni Ribisi) doesn’t believe the body belongs to Williams’ brother. Things take another turn for the worse when the brother (Woody Harrelson) shows up unexpectedly. It’s a goofy, sadistic, and sometimes disgusting comedy, but that’s why it works when it does.
Even with that cast, the show stealer here is Holly Hunter, playing William’s wife. She firmly believes she has Tourette’s syndrome even though she doesn’t. Her profanity-laced tirades are hilarious, coming at the most inopportune times.
However, she also carries much of the film. There are numerous dry scenes that seem to go nowhere, and characters that barely feel necessary. Humor can be sporadic outside of a couple laugh out moments, and budget restrictions give a rather plain design to the sets (sometimes on purpose). Also, Woody Harrelson is at times more over-the-top than the movie’s base line, and completely unbelievable as Williams’ brother.
You can’t go into Big White and expect Fargo, but for a similar tone and style, this will suffice. It definitely falls off course multiple times, and the laughs can be intermittent thanks to the pacing. There’s enough here to make a recommendation, albeit a light one.
Like the movie, this Blu-ray transfer is inconsistent. Opening shots appear crisp and detailed. Black levels are excellent. Occasionally, this transfer does make a comeback, but is overshadowed by murkiness in darker scenes and one of the more overblown contrasts you’ll ever see. Apparently, Big White is a reference to the giant white splotches over the actors faces. Flesh tones waver and rarely end up accurate. It’s amazing how this MPEG-2 encode can deliver such crisp detail in one close up, and then completely lose itself mere seconds later.
Audio is certainly unique in terms of its options. While the back of the case lists an uncompressed 5.1 track, this is incorrect. Instead, you have your choices of a standard DD 5.1, DTS (1.5 Mbps), PCM 2.0 (2.3 Mbps), and a standard stereo track. For surround work on the DTS track, there is some mild ambience, including blowing snow and wind. There are minor instances of rear audio in a fight sequence inside a garage as well. Otherwise, the slightly crisper dialogue offered by the PCM mix will probably prove to be the best option for audiophiles. The difference is minute however.
A single meager featurette, An Adventure in Filmmaking sits on the disc. It’s 15 minutes of retelling the story, brief behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews. A photo gallery and incredibly low quality trailer round out this rather pathetic set of extras.