The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonDirected by David FincherStarring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji Henson and Tilda SwintonRated PG-13*7.5*
Goes well with: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, Youth Without Youth
Youth is wasted on the young, as the saying goes. Not so in David Fincher's new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages in reverse—he's born an old man and during the course of his life, becomes younger and younger.
Benjamin is played by Brad Pitt who, for the first time in his career, is playing a mild-mannered guy less interested in having an impact on the world around him than he is in simply observing it drift by. And drift by it does—clocking in at almost three hours, the film spans the early part of the last century all the way up to Hurricane Katrina. It's incorrect, however, to call Benjamin Button an epic. Lawrence of Arabia was an epic. Hell, Australia is an epic.
Benjamin Button is a simple love story between Benjamin and Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who meets the film's protagonist when she is young and he is old, and watches him go in the other direction as she ages.
In fact, Benjamin Button is just a movie about a very unusual man who lives, to be honest, a somewhat usual life.
Yes, Benjamin travels and has his adventures in World War II, but it's just one chapter in his very long life, and though he eventually finds his fortune (truthfully, it finds him), he is generally content to spend his days in New Orleans, where he was born old and left on the steps of an old-age home, where he grew up around people who looked just like him.
Indeed, the film has less in common with Fitzgerald's short story than it does with Forrest Gump, another film about a man who doesn't fit in as he experiences history's events. Before you decry that comparison, consider this—both were written by Eric Roth, and none of the players involved in Button have likely forgotten that Gump went on to win six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
David Fincher is always an impressive director, but unlike Se7en and Fight Club, Benjamin Button feels unfocused. It isn't taut, slowly cruising along Benjamin's life like a riverboat—sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it meanders, and sometimes you feel like you're seeing the same scenery over and over again. While there's plenty to look at, and the love story between Benjamin and Daisy is compelling enough, the film never truly tackles the idea of age and experience in a youthful body.
It could be that Pitt doesn't have the chops to pull it off, but I don't think that's what Benjamin Button is about, and that's too bad. We've all pondered earlier parts of our lives, wishing we'd lived through them armed with the wisdom that comes with age. In a world that thinks Benjamin is a young man, neither the character nor the film spends time reflecting on that. Pitt is actually very pleasant, and he's great in the first hour, as the young boy in the old man's body, but Benjamin Button begs for an intellectual introspection that just isn't present. What's interesting about Benjamin isn't who he is, it's what he is, and that seems to attract an eclectic cast of characters throughout the years.
The production design and the cinematography are stunning, and the CGI that transforms Pitt's age is subtle and striking. The acting is decent enough, and the supporting characters, played by the likes of Jason Flemyng and Tilda Swinton, are all intriguing. Fincher has some moments and sequences that are terribly impressive, and though it runs far too long, Benjamin Button is a perfectly enjoyable experience. It's as if Fincher, instead of making a film about a serial killer or a sociopath, has finally decided to use his directing superpowers for good, but once he started turning over new leaves, he didn't know when to stop.