Title: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: David Fincher
Summary: Tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences
**** out of ****
Every once in awhile a movie comes along that reminds me what it really means to be a fan of cinema…and this gem, loosely based on an excellent short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, fits the bill completely.
Now it’s no secret that I count myself a fan of the epic and the classic and this film manages to envoke thoughts of both while seemingly bringing something completely new to the table as well. It’s a rare example of real movie magic that provides escapism, entertainment and emotion in a gripping, if slightly long, package. The film’s director, David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac), brings his unique vision to what is essentially a fairytale and he does an exceptional job of walking the fine line between the other-worldiness of the plot and the necessarily realistic emotions and characterizations. Many might compare this film to another similar life-spanning chronicle, Forrest Gump (coincidentally penned by one of Button’s screenwriters, Eric Roth), Fincher does well to avoid the time period cliches and cheese to which Gump often succumbed.
As with Gump, this film follows the unusual life of the title character (Pitt), in this case as he ages backwards from old man to infant, and the people he meets and the lessons he learns along the way. And while the film holds your interest with that idea alone – the scenes of his “childhood” in an old age home with his adoptive mother, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) are particular affecting and strong – the story that stands out and grabs you is the love story between Benjamin and Daisy (Blanchett) – it really forms the heart of the film. Circumstances (she ages naturally, he doesn’t) are such that, as Benjamin himself observes, “nothing can last” and thus their story is bittersweet thoughout…and call me a glutton for vicarious punishment, but tales that pull at my heartstrings are the ones I find most memorable. The acting across the board is top notch with Henson really standing out in a performace that sees her age from a dedicated young woman to a feisty and loyal old woman. Pitt and Blanchett both fit there roles extremely well and their chemistry works very well…Pitt actually doesn’t have that much dialogue considering the length of time he is on screen but he imbues every look or reaction with enough emotion that any additional lines would’ve been superfluous.
For a film that focuses mainly on aging and death, the message it sends is one of life. As the tagline of the movie tells us “it’s the moments that count, not the minutes”. I have heard many people complain about the length of the film and even it’s slowness in parts…but I think that’s part of it’s strength. Fincher takes the time to really focus in on the important moments and people in Button’s life and has a tendency to slow down and show the effect they have on his development…and to rush that would have been a disservice to a fantastic narrative and message.
The story is so engrossing that I confess I paid less attention to the special effects then I thought I would…but that’s as it should be. The beautiful cinematography, the gorgeous locales (Button was only the second film to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina), and the amazing makeup needed to age the characters all blend seemlessly together to present the story at it’s best.
The film may not be perfect and may not be even the best of the year (although it has been for me) but what it is is magical and it was most definitely a joy to behold for this movie lover.
*Banner image created by PollyPrissyPants, with images from IMDB.com*