?I was born under unusual circumstances.? And so begins The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards: a man, like any o... more »f us, who is unable to stop time. We follow his story, set in New Orleans, from the end of World War I in 1918 into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man?s life can be. Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Julia Ormond, ?Benjamin Button,? is a grand tale of a not-so-ordinary man and the people and places he discovers along the way, the loves he finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.« less
Josh L. from KNOXVILLE, TN Reviewed on 8/13/2009...
There are few filmmakers working today who understand the minutia of composition and its intimate relationship to narrative as David Fincher does. He paints with such elegant and seemingly effortless confidence. Even when his subjects reside in the darkest corners of humanity, Fincher displays subtlety and keen understanding of character and movement. With each new project, he seems to evolve—which is uncommon, even for great directors. So it is with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film of a man who is born elderly and dies a baby.
Abandoned on a doorstep, Benjamin is first stepped on and then immediately looked upon with horror. Though the size of an infant, Benjamin’s skin hangs from his bones, wrinkles occupy every inch of his face, and he is riddled with arthritis. He cries out. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) takes no more than a minute in deciding to keep Benjamin. Tizzy (the man who just stepped on Benjamin) reluctantly follows Queenie back into the nursing home in which she resides and works.
Through the years, Benjamin grows biologically younger. Learning to walk for Benjamin requires first a wheelchair, then crutches, then a cane. His hearing and vision are poor; his hair is thin and gray. He lives his life in the nursing home, surrounded by stories of the past and constant visits from death. His situation, though difficult, seems almost serendipitous. It has afforded Benjamin a slower rhythm, and an uncommon patience. These will be essential tools for his life to come.
When Benjamin is about five or six, he meets young Daisy. He’s immediately taken with her striking red hair and her clear, blue eyes. Daisy’s grandmother is often in and out of the nursing home, so Daisy and Benjamin play together during her visits—though Benjamin has trouble keeping up. As they both mature, the circumstances of their inverse momentums pull them apart and bring them back together throughout their lives.
There’s been some criticism about the relationship between Daisy and Benjamin. Some seem to feel that love cannot honestly exist when one is growing older and the other younger. I beg to differ. Love itself is awkward, and we cannot help where it chooses to manifest. I am of the belief that love can occur no matter what the circumstance. Of course, I have been accused of being a naïve romantic. Maybe so. But, I can take solace in that David Fincher must also suffer from the same affliction, because no dead-in-the-water cynic could craft such a painfully poetic and romantic work.
I’m realizing, here on my second page of this review, that I’ve neglected to even mention Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchett, arguably the two most important components of the film. Pitt does a fine job with what must’ve been a difficult and demanding role. However, I cannot say I was enamored with his performance. There’s something about Pitt’s stillness that felt, to me, a bit too subdued. Something missing from the eyes. I cared for Benjamin, I empathized; but I felt more could have been drawn from the character. My hesitation may seem somewhat unprofessional, but I realize that, with a film like this, often a second viewing and more attention paid to a singular performance will bring new understanding, and often appreciation.
Roger Ebert once said of Meryl Streep that she could do no wrong. Well, then, Cate Blanchett is my Meryl Streep. I’ve never seen this fine actress miss a note, and her performance here is no exception. She plays Daisy with intelligence and grace, often distancing us from the character with emotional slight-of-hand. Her face expresses and withholds so much that I was unsure about Daisy’s psychology until the very end of the film. That’s an impressive feat for any actor.
The technical aspects of the film alone merit almost limitless appreciation by any student of cinema. It is a grand example of how special effects and narrative should marry. The aging effects, the motion-capture techniques, and the gorgeous, painterly vistas are astonishing. Very rarely was I removed from the film by a shoddy or erroneous bit of CGI. Benjamin Button is truly a marvel of modern cinema in this regard.
The film is very, very loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story and was adapted for the screen by Eric Roth. Roth also—and quite inconveniently—wrote Forrest Gump. I say inconveniently because Benjamin Button has been justifiably, but unfairly compared to that film. Yes, they do share many narrative similarities, but Benjamin Button functions with subtlety and a sense of melancholy that simply aren’t present in Forrest Gump. They are two very different films and I don’t feel these similarities should be a cause for criticism. Ironically, Benjamin Button falters in places where Forrest Gump excels. Roth’s script is too concerned with connecting Benjamin’s timeline with corresponding world events. We see Benjamin watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, witnessing the launch of Apollo 11, etc. These events feel cheap and superfluous; it’s when the narrative connects back to its own events that it really becomes alive and articulate.
So, in terms of narrative, Benjamin Button isn’t Fincher’s finest work. The film plays like a rich novel, with heady paradoxes, finely drawn characters and deep, emotional wells. But, not all of the film’s threads are coherently accounted for in the final picture. On the other hand, there were so many places I expected the film to falter where it did not. Sure, it has its moments of schmaltz like all such biographical fables, but it never drowns in it. In fact, there is a coldness to the film, which was unexpected, honest and welcome.
Ultimately, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a love story; but, moreover, it’s about the cruelty and beauty of time: how it changes us, how it moves us, how it destroys us, how it renews us. With this, his seventh film, Fincher evolves yet again. He is a master craftsman, and his amazing abilities are on full display here. Watching the man work is a pleasure.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
A gorgeous, but depressing drama. Mild Spoilers
Val | RI | 03/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Curious Case of Benjamim Button is by no means a feel-good movie. In fact upon watching it, I felt depressed even the next day just thinking about it. People may confuse this for a love story but to me the film clearly symbolizes death. The love aspect is certainly present, though it is not the center of attention here.
Brad Pitt stars as Benjamin Button, a man who essentially ages backwards. When he is born, his own father attempts to drown him before a sudden change of heart has him leaving the swaddled and very whithered newborn upon the steps of an elderly home. There he is found by Queenie, played to motherly perfection by Taraji P. Henson. She sees past the deformity and oddity and loves him immediately.
Instead of dying, as a doctor predicted, Benjamin actually begins to age backwards. He appears as a very old man and slowly grows younger, but only in body. His mind seems to function as a typical human's mind. He learns, and dreams and experiences. This basically sets up the magnificent story and from then on, you are taken from country to country, from one decade, to another and it is just superb to witness.
The acting is fantastic all around. Brad Pitt does an outstanding job, portraying both the old Benjamin as well as his younger counterpart. Cate Blanchett as his childhood friend/love interest is also a joy to watch. She can do no wrong, she is simply stunning. For such a short part, Tilda Swinton surely makes the most of it. Her tale and part with Benjamin in Russia is just stunning. There is also the talented Julia Ormond, who has a bigger part to play in the tale than we may realise at first.
The most impressive aspect of the film is the flawless visual effects. Just flawless. You have never seen aging/deaging done like this. There is a scene, towards the end, with Benjamin and Daisy (Blanchett) that had my jaw dropping. It was like looking back in time. I can't describe how utterly impressed I was. The cinematography, the sad musical score, the costumes, just every little minute detail is just so impressive and authentic.
I have heard grumbles from people who compare it to Forrest Gump. What? How? There should not be any comparing the two films-or the two characters. Gump was a slow and mostly ignorant person who fell into unbelievable situations. Button clearly chooses his own paths, though it may not seem it, at the beginning. It irritates me how someone can make such a comparison.
This is a long film, nearly three hours, though with the plot and subject matter, it makes sense and really, it is such a beautiful film, you hardly notice the passing of time. Like I mentioned, it will leave you feeling blue but that does not diminish from the fact this is one of the better newer films out there now, and one that people will remember in the future."
Brilliant Adaptation of Fitzgerald's Short Story
Terence Allen | Atlanta, GA USA | 03/24/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a wonderfully staged fantasy based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's fantasy about a boy born old and aging younger instead of older. The story could obviously be off-putting and distracting, but everyone involved does such a magnificent job of telling this story that it is not hard to accept this as fact, and following the story as it shows Benjamin growing younger and falling in love with a young girl named Daisy.
Benjamin and Daisy's story and the balance of Benjamin's life impart so many valuable life lessons that it is hard to recount them all - the idea that life brings many hardships and the best we can do is doing the best we can with what we're given, making the most of every moment because life is fleeting and unpredictable, find the joy and happinessin life and hold on to it dearly, and many other lessons.
"Benjamin Button" gives Brad Pitt the chance to shine in the title role, and he makes the most of it. He is ably assisted by Cate Blanchett as Daisy, Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's adoptive mother, Tilda Swinton as another love of Benjamin's, and many others. This film is marvelous and a hopeful fable for all of us."
A Great Film That Manages to Transcend Its Huge Premise
Pat Shand | Freeport, NY USA | 05/24/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has such a high concept that some people were thrown off. Even major critics like Roger Ebert bashed the film as a whole based only upon his thought that the concept made it a film that no one could ever relate to. I wholeheartedly disagree, and am a little disappointed that after so many years of reading Ebert's reviews, that he's limiting his scope by writing off concepts that, to him, just can't work, especially when this film makes its concept work so brilliantly. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a brooding, sweepingly epic tale about--no surprises here--Benjamin Button, who was born as an old man and will age backwards until he is once again an infant. While this is certainly never the case in life, the unusualness of it even more poignant, because it still does, in a way, mirror real life. When Benjamin Button becomes a boy after years of "growing down," he will begin to lose his memories the same way an elderly man with Alzheimer's would. Truthfully, it is a high concept that perhaps would have been one of those "huge idea, not so much story" films in different hands, but screenwriter Eric Roth and director David Fincher made a film that transcends even this looming premise.
The movie has a sort of Burtonesque whimsy, though it is textured in a way that none of his films are. The film is almost three hours long, and it's such a busy three hours that it feels more like four. There is a framing story, in which a dying woman and her daughter read the diary of Benjamin. These may be considered the weakest parts of the story, but it also comes together nicely in the end. All of the various characters that Benjamin meets along the way are so interesting and so well thought out. There's a man who gets struck by lightning seven times (we see six of these through hilarious flashbacks), a woman who wants to break a swimming record but is limited by her age, a drunken captain who opens up his world to carnal pleasures, and a whole lot of other characters who you will fall in love with over the course of the film. Many people die, because death--one way (old age) or the other (youth)--is sort of the whole point behind this film. People come into your life and one way or another, they leave. And they leave an imprint. The film is such a weird way to tackle the premise but it's so deliciously inventive and brilliantly made that its weirdness plays a central role in its overall greatness.
One of the better movies of 2008, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a universally enjoyable film that I suspect it will be even better to watch on DVD when one can take a bit of a break between scenes. The length, and the war scene, will definitely lose some viewers for a while, but everything that comes before and everything that follows is so fantastic that you'll definitely catch back up with it.
A Life Less Ordinary
Hikari | Lima, OH USA | 06/15/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is, while a technically brilliant piece of filmmaking that fully exploits all the wizardry of CGI and makeup of which the filmmaker's art is now capable, strangely hollow at the center. One begins the movie expecting some profound truths about human existence to be explored, but it ends not with a big life-affirming bang, but more of a whimper, quite literally. Benjamin says though his diary at one point: "Life is defined by opportunities--even the ones we miss." And that could be a sum-up of this film project as a whole, as well as the life of the bizarre hero at its center. One gets the sense of promise grasped for here but not quite realized as the technical and stylistic gymnastics of this movie overwhelm the fragile love story that should be its beating heart.
The film opens with Mr. Gateau (Cake) constructing a magical clock that runs backwards and mounting it in a train station in New Orleans in honor of his son, dead in the Great War. No mention is made again of Mr. Gateau or whether his clock was successful in rewinding time to bring dead boys back to life. It does have a curious effect on the life of one boy, though, as Benjamin enters the world essentially running backwards. As other reviewers have pointed out, it's quizzical that the clock has this metaphysical effect on only Benjamin among all the other children born afterwards, but then, fantasy is not required to operate by the rules of logic. Perhaps Benjamin, with a Gullah mother was particularly susceptible to magic, and how serendipitous that old-man baby Benjamin's grieving father abandoned him, along with $18 on the steps of an old-folks home, rather than say, a brothel . . .this being New Orleans, after all. What are the chances, outside the realm of fantastical fiction, furthermore that Benjamin's progenitor be named Mr. Button, and that he own a button factory? Otherwise we wouldn't have such nifty alliteration.
Countless comparisons have been made to "Forrest Gump", with which this narrative does share structural similarities. However, that didn't occur to me while I was watching and found instead resonance with one of Pitt's earlier characters, Tristan Ludlow from "Legends of the Fall"--like Benjamin, Tristan is a soul set apart, blessed or cursed with mystical powers he does not fully understand; uncomfortable among other people and destined to lose the true love of his life due to his own inability to live a normal life. Scenes of Benjamin travelling to foreign shores and sailing a boat underscored this impression. (The presence of Julia Ormond, here playing the adult daughter of the aged Daisy was just a bonus, since she and Pitt have no scenes together.) The setting of New Orleans during Benjamin's childhood in the early decades of the last century also reminded me of Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby".
This film is technically dazzling, but I think it was justly deprived of the top acting awards. With so much else to be distracted by, the acting had a job of it to even be noticed, really. Cate Blanchett is luminous, as usual. I had my doubts a 38-year-old mother of three could pull off a 23-year-old ballerina, but La Blanchett can do anything. The greatest curiosity I had, to be honest, was in how they were going to make Brad Pitt look 18 again. Brad has taken pretty good care of his body over the years, but the strain of being father to the United Tribe of Benetton is starting to show . . .at least when he's not on a movie set. When he's lit and coiffed for a film, he does not look anything like a 46-year-old father of six. He can easily pass for a decade younger . . .but I thought 18 would be pushing it. Well . . . did I say that the makeup department is amazing?? Looking at the scene of an 18-year-old Benjamin coming to visit the now-58-year-old Daisy--wow. It was like having a flashback to Mr. Pitt's debut in "Thelma & Louise", and it was a very unsettling feeling. "Unsettling" is the best descriptor for this movie. Parts of it were stunning to look at, but its tragic meditations on the ultimate inablity of love to bring any meaning to human life leaves you wrung out and uncertain whether you are better off having seen it than you were before."
An interesting movie, but disappointing in some respects.
Darren B. O'Connor | Norfolk, Virginia United States | 06/12/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Visually, this is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Every period in the film, from the roaring '20s of Benjamin's earliest years, to the 1960s when he lived briefly with the girl of his dreams, are captured almost perfectly onscreen. The cinematography is practically flawless. The film is so wonderfully atmospheric it's almost worth watching for that alone. The special effects are remarkable as well. At different points in the film, both Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt are made to look roughly twenty years younger than their actual ages. This is relatively new in film. It's been possible since the medium began to age actors with makeup, but now it's also possible to de-age them through the magic of CGI. So where it would once have only been possible to make this film using very young actors to play the leads, and use make up to age them into their 40s and 50s and beyond, they can now cast established stars in their 40s and still have them convincingly play characters just out of their teens. The technical wizardry behind this is amazing, and it's yet another example of the magic of the movies.
So on technical merits alone I'd give the film 5 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, the story does not quite live up to that high standard. It's not bad, to be sure; I did enjoy the movie, but I couldn't help wonder, at the end of it all, what the point was. As the reviewer for the Sunday Times aptly put it: "It's a gimmick that goes on for nearly three hours." Now I don't think every story has to have a moral, or a great message, or all kinds of weighty allusions and themes, and so forth. But simple, escapist entertainment just works better as a comedy or an action piece. A moody, character-driven drama, one can't help but feel, ought to have a little more to say. This movie, enjoyable as it is, seems like nothing more than an exercise in "what if" thinking -- what if a man could age backward? What would that be like? Storywise, the film seems to have nothing to offer beyond that, and one really doesn't need a 2 1/2 hour film to spell out all the sorrowful ramifications of such a scenario.
Still, the film is good for an evening's entertainment, and is a feast for the eyes. Cate Blanchett is nearly always worth watching, and Pitt gives a very good performance as well."