December 28, 2008
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON - A Movie Review
David Fincher does it again.
With OK films like Aliens 3 and Panic Room, I was a big fan
of Fincher after Se7en, Fight Club, and the most incredible crime
drama of the past decade; Zodiac, and he's just getting better every
couple of years and when he's given total creative freedom, he seems
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a genuine
accomplishment. It stylistically shows a span of history, carefully
orchestrating an evolution of style and mood that tracks the passing
years. This is an intelligent fantasy with a beautifully sustained
and intricate attention to tone. Almost certainly this haunting
fantasy will be my best film of 2008. This is a loose adaptation
and a translation forward in time of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
from his TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE.
The digital special effects revolution that is now in its fourth
decade and has reached a higher point of maturity when the question
is no longer "What can I put in my movie?" and it is now "How do
effects that help me to tell this story." That is what the effects do
in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.
Not since Golem in LOTR has there been such convincing CG
characterization that makes you marvel at the time and effort made
by the CG artists to make the most realistic movement and facial
expressions possible with the current technology.
The environmental effects and all visual effects are so seamlessly effective
in conveying the story that the director, here David Fincher, can just tell
the story he wants to tell. In this case the story is vaguely reminiscent of
FORREST GUMP with several parallels. That is not surprising since Eric Roth
wrote both screenplays. Benjamin Button (Pitt) was born in 1919 an old man
and lives his life getting younger. Along the way we see a wide swath of American
history. Like in FORREST GUMP we see his tortured relationship with a woman
from whom his condition separates him. This is Daisy, played beautifully
(when an adult) by Cate Blanchett. In this case his relationship starts out
grandfatherly and the two get closer to the same age until they
pass each other into a relationship reminiscent of the end of
FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
At 159 minutes, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is
very deliberately paced to lull the viewer into the period feel and to
allow him to ease into the fantasy story. Yet there is always more
than enough on the screen to involve the viewer. Fincher creates
the feel of the period directly and by insetting small stories done
in the style of cinema of the time. All sorts of technical aspects
are done very nicely including makeup that ages (or un-ages) the
characters. One finds oneself impressed with Cate Blanchett's
dancing, but later wondering if it might be the result of digital
wizardry. The one place where the attention to detail lets us down
is in insufficient resemblance between actors playing the same
character at different ages.
The tale is told in flashback, read from a letter once written to a
woman now dying in a New Orleans hospital. The letter tells the
story of the life of the title character. His mother died giving
him birth and his father (Jason Flemyng), in grief and abhorrence
for the monstrous looking baby, rejects him and leaves him on the
step of an underfunded nursing home. From birth the child looks
more like an old man, which is just what he turns out to be
physically. He is adopted by the black care-giver Queenie
(lovingly played by Taraji P. Henson) and raised as an old man in
the home. Eric Roth's screenplay sticks to purely fictional
characters, but he does meet someone who is based on the real-life
Ota Benga, the pygmy who was put in a zoo.
This film is a technical triumph, but not one whose touches call
attention away from the plot line. It is a beautiful mood piece.
I recommend it to anyone who enjoys deeply textured films with very
strong visual story telling techniques, richly detailed environments
and locations, and for anyone who enjoys a nice fantasy film.