The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Review by Jack Foley
DAVID Fincher’s third outing with Brad Pitt (after Se7en and Fight Club) is a truly curious affair. A romantic epic unlike any of his other movies, it has to rate as an unlikely move for the director… but a bold departure that does pay off.
Based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald and adapted for the screen by Eric Roth (the Oscar-winning writer behind Forrest Gump), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a thought-provoking look at life’s journey, told in reverse, that operates on both a vast and intimate scale.
The film picks up as an elderly, hospitalised woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett) recalls the story of her life to her daughter (Julia Ormond) as Hurricane Katrina approaches outside.
Daisy’s story is entwined with that of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), a man who was born as a geriatric and who grows younger throughout his life.
Abandoned at birth, Benjamin was taken in by a kindly black OAP home worker (Taraji P Henson) and – through the course of a remarkable life – has an affair with a married woman (Tilda Swinton), experiences war first-hand through life on a sailboat, and eventually settles down with Daisy for a relationship that eventually brings its own tough decisions.
Fincher’s film takes its time to unfold, over the course of almost three hours, but is such a fascinating journey that you probably won’t notice the time pass.
It’s emotionally engrossing and visually enchanting, boasting some jaw-dropping special effects (particularly in regards to the ageing process of its two main stars) and plenty of twists and turns.
It’s also supremely well-acted, with everyone from Pitt and Blanchett to Henson, Swinton and Jason Flemyng registering strongly in some way. It’s little wonder, in fact, that the film has amassed so many Oscar nominations (13 in total).
Curiously, however, the film just falls short of being the masterpiece that many were expecting… and there could be several reasons for this.
Fincher, by virtue of his past track record, is not a name synonymous with sweeping romantic epics, or even intimate emotions, and he refrains from turning Benjamin Button into a slush-fest. It is sentimental… but it doesn’t feel contrived and is not the out-and-out weepie you may have been anticipating.
Also, by nature of its innovative plot device, the film also enters some strangely uncomfortable territory the longer it persists. Pitt’s eventual “old age” finds him as a boy and the scenes between the young actor who plays Benjamin and the elderly Blanchett do have an icky quality about them.
Hence, a film that should have ended on an emotional high is almost undone by the parameters of its storyline. While the framing device, involving Daisy’s time with her daughter (Ormond) provide the only moments when time stands still.
That isn’t to say that Benjamin Button doesn’t resonate… it does, particularly during the romantic middle section between Daisy and Benjamin, when both are forced to reflect on the fact that nothing lasts.
Observations on old age, mortality and the nature of romance are also acutely observed, while there’s a keen sense of the passing of time, and the need to get on and live life while the opportunity allows.
Fincher, to his credit, also keeps the pace lively, even though Benjamin remains a casual observer for much of his life. He is, after all, an extraordinary person struggling to get by in the hum-drum of life and some of his episodes reflect this.
Hats off, then, to a cinematic achievement that is undoubtedly impressive… even though it does come with flaws.
Running time: 167mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 8, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Eric Roth interview
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Photo Gallery