|The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P. Henson
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a better experience and a better production than it is a singularly entertaining movie. You're better for having seen it, it's definitely something to discuss further, but there's not as much to enjoy about it as you might think. It can leave you wanting. However, the elements about it that it gets right it gets exactly right. And there are many more of those than than what it gets wrong.
Director David Fincher has reportedly loved the idea of turning this F. Scott Fitzgerald short story into a movie, and why not? How many other films could be made about a man who was "born old" and aged backwards, who finds himself as a child some 80 years old, hits his stride around the age of 40, and then as the wealth of his experiences could serve him best, regresses to the form of a child with the failing mind of an old man. The problem with making a movie out of this story is exactly that: How do you make a movie out of it?
From a technical standpoint, it couldn't be done until very recently, not convincingly. Because of the integration of digital effects and make-up that would need to be used to age Button (Brad Pitt) from a man in his seventies trapped in the body of a child, Fincher had to wait years before the concept could be filmed correctly. And as that goes, we're better for the waiting. This film will be nominated for the visual effects Oscars and it should win. Say what you'd like about The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and other films, but they're trying to create things that look that impressive; Fincher and a visual effects team than includes over 220 artists are charged with making all of this look natural, not just within its own creation but throughout every scene in the movie.
There is a scene where Button, at age seven, is taken to a faith healer because he uses crutches to walk. Of course, his bones are still those of a septuagenarian, but his body size is the same as a second grader. So there's tiny Brad Pitt, wobbling on crutches next to the rest of the actors, who interact with him even though he's not really in the scene. He's made later. But you're not supposed to recognize that. You're just supposed to buy the story. And you can't buy this story unless you buy the effects.
Fincher and writer Eric Roth don't shy away from making Benjamin Button an excruciating ordeal for themselves. It would be easier to take a Forrest Gump approach and bounce Button around from place to place for a few hours. This really does play out like a diary of someone's life, and that's more difficult because of its demands on the actors, certainly, who in the cases of Pitt and Blanchett have to have the kind of shorthand lifelong lovers do, but it also carries a huge burden for the pacing and structure of the story.
That's what makes the format of this film so puzzling. There are bookends, and I hate bookends. Framing this fantastic fable with contemporary events and characters is on the whole completely unnecessary. It was unnecessary in Saving Private Ryan, it's unnecessary in Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, and it's unnecessary here. We're fascinated enough by the Button story; we don't need to jump from the 1930s or 1960s to a modern day scene where Button is referenced in the past tense and never seen. It's the one major objection I have to the film.
Without the bookends, this would be about two hours and fifteen minutes, certainly less than two-and-a-half hours. And it would have been a better movie. I can't figure out what perspective from the life of Benjamin Button we're missing that needs an update from the here and now. It gives Cate Blanchett some nice moments on screen, but in terms of advancing our story, it's kind of an anchor.
Beyond that, however, I thought The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was spellbinding. I wasn't consistently entertained, but that's not all you look for with a film like this. Also, the acting felt a little cold to me all the way around. Taking all of that into account, I couldn't help but marvel at the impeccably envisioned world David Fincher has created here.
You will never flip past this movie on cable, look at any of the characters, and wonder what you're watching. Benjamin Button will never be mistaken for anything else. That's the sort of accomplishment only a few movies can ever claim.