The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

If it’s not obvious by the 150 million price tag, leading cast, source material and acclaimed director, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is supposed to be a pretty big deal. Uniformaly great in most categories, it deserves to win mulitple technical awards, but the lazy script weighs the whole picture down. The resulting film is far from a complete tragedy, but for the talent involved it comes nowhere near reaching it’s potential. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s breezy short story of the same name, screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) have made a misguided epic centered around a pretty great idea.

The premise is simple: Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button; a man “born under unusual circumstances”. I believe this is the first line of the book as well, Fitzgerald had an affinity for great openers-“In my younger and more vulnerable years”-, epic yet to the point. The film, not so much. After a couple minutes of muddled and unnecessary exposition informing us of these “unusual circumstances” we get to the meat of a story.

A newborn with the body of a dying man, who will later grow down to become the unabashedly handsome Pitt, meeting his childhood/weird old-little guy sweetheart at the halfway point and seeing what happens from there. The scenes where Pitt and Blanchett are around the same age seem to be handled with masterful understanding, what went wrong with the rest?

The early scenes are surely a marvel of special effects, watching Pitt’s famous features slowly becoming more defined is exciting to watch, if only our enthusiasm was shared with the rest of the cast. The young Benjamin shuffles through his early life, regarded by the people around him as if there’s not a damn thing “curious” about him. His mother, played wonderfully by Tarai P. Henson, is the only substantial character in his odd youth. The others are limited to insipid one liners and forced resonance.

Take for example, a glazed over old man who is relegated to telling Benjamin a new story about how he got “struck by lightning seven times” every time he shows up. This is literally his only purpose in the film, yet at the end we are expected to care about his death and take meaning from his “life lesson”. His character is the majority of the movie in a microcosm: pandering, and for all it’s earnest attempts at greatness, forced.

“Button’s” multiple missteps rarely ever stick out as one glaring mistake, but taken as a whole they heavily detracts form the experience. Maybe screenwriter Eric Roth, most famous for “Forrest Gump” is resting on his laurels here. There is a framing device, that unlike “Gump”, does no help to the story, and where is the imagination here? We are watching a character with the years and knowledge of a grandfather in a young mans body, yet he has less to say about his experiences than a mildly retarded man.

But I think this review sounds harsher than “Button” deserves. It’s hard to fault a film for having too much ambition, and it certainly looks pretty enough. When it gets going you can start to sense something great happening; Pitt and Tilda Swinton’s mid-pic affair is the kind of indulgence the rest of the story could have leaned on.

The film seems to be constantly striving for greatness, I would of preferred an unusual man in a quaint story than a blank slate in an empty epic; and it’s not like director David Fincher can’t handle a 2 1/2 hour plus running time. His previous film, “Zodiac”, was a masterpiece that spanned decades.

“The Curious Case of Banjamin Button” very often looks like a masterpiece. It, unfortunately, rarely sounds or feels like one.


~ by rozco on February 4, 2009.

One Response to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

  1. I was also let down by this movie. The way I describe it is that I’m glad I saw it but I have no interest in seeing it again. I can appreciate the technology behind the aging of Brad Pitt, but that doesn’t help the story at all.

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