If you ask yourself who directed Brad Pitt’s new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David Fincher wouldn’t be the first name on anyone’s lips. The sprawling, melancholy tale of a man who ages backwards over seventy years looks and feels like something Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard or even Robert Zemeckis could have directed.
It is a moving and meditative story about a man who craves affection his whole life, but is dealt such a perverse hand by fate that it is virtually impossible for him to find lifelong love and happiness. At the same time, his warm and positive spirit makes a profound impact on everyone he meets. It doesn’t hurt that he looks like Brad Pitt for a lot of the film, either.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie full of magical scenes and performances that only drags in the middle of its 167-minute length. Benjamin Button was born on Armistice Day, 1918, to a mother who died in childbirth and a father who was so repulsed by the shriveled, ancient looking baby, he abandoned him on a stranger’s steps. Queenie (played the amazing Taraji P. Henson), who runs an old folk’s home in New Orleans, becomes his surrogate mother and gives him a loving foundation for the rest of his life.
One day, Benjamin meets a girl named Daisy (first played by Elle Fanning and then Cate Blanchett), and they form a lifelong bond, even when apart. Pitt gives a great performance, especially early on, through his affair with Tilda Swinton as a lonely diplomat’s wife. Blanchett is even more amazing, playing her character at all stages from youthful narcissism to end of life clarity, and she deserves an Oscar nomination.
Fincher has created a breathtakingly beautiful film, and is ably assisted by composer Alexandre Desplat, whose gorgeous score elevates every scene and deserves to win the Academy Award. Toward the middle of the film, when Benjamin goes out to find himself, the momentum lags and I found myself wondering, “How many years are left until we’re back in Hurricane Katrina-whipped Louisiana?” (where the story’s framing device takes place). The last portion of the film, featuring Blanchett’s finest work, is almost beyond sad but a very satisfying movie-going experience.
I don’t feel that the film gave enough justification for being set during Katrina, and its episodic nature sometimes felt like a less-contrived Forrest Gump, which isn’t surprising since Eric Roth wrote the screenplays for both. Still, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a haunting cinematic experience that is equal parts romance and wistfulness. Its lasting message is to enjoy every wonderful moment life gives you and not to settle for less.
UPDATE: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.