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Monday
Dec222008

Movie Review - 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P. Henson
Directed by David Fincher
Rated PG-13



thecuriouscaseofbenjaminbutton_galleryposter1a.jpgThe 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.

There are things we would never notice, as well; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has a digital hair artist, for example. But then there are things we would if we kept our eyes open, like Cate Blanchett's graceful aging process. She plays Daisy, Button's one true love, from her early 20s to her 70s. Of course, Daisy ages clockwise. But even that means turning back the clock, since Blanchett is 39. So digital effects are used to make her face look younger, then older. It's the same process they used to make Magneto and Professor Xavier look like well-preserved mannequins at the beginning of X-Men: The Last Stand, but even in two short years, the work has come a very long way.

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.

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Reader Comments (7)

I loved this film because of Taraji P. Henson and the gorgeous cinematography.
New Orleans never looked more beautiful, except when I was there earlier this year : )

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlara Petersen

Well said about bookends. It needs to be a chapter in every film history book, and upper division coursework at every film school.

No more bookends! Right a damn ending!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWill

Write right!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWilson Lost

I can't wait for this movie! Christmas Day for sure!.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdebt relief

Benjamin Button was very Fincher-esque... almost as good as his other stuff if not for some nagging plot holes

Friday, January 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercoffee fiend

Wait. What? You actually liked this piece of junk? A better title for this movie would have been FORREST GRAMP. This was nothing more than a three hour waste of time with a totally non-active protagonist, no real emotional character arcs, and visual effects that were far more interesting than the rice paper thin story. Watching a character not do anything but stand in wide eyed wonderment as wacky stuff happens to him is not good story telling. The emperor has not clothes!

Monday, February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Awesome movie, this is an actor that besides his looks is also a great actor, his movies are always good and funny, he can play amazing characters no matter the gender.


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Thursday, February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPopo

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