Paramount Pictures / Warner Bros.
Now playing in cinemas nationwide
If you can only see one movie this holiday season – make it director David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” starring Brad PItt and Cate Blanchett. The film takes place in New Orleans and begins with the birth of Benjamin Button (played by Pitt) in 1918, at the end of the World War I. Under normal circumstances, this would be something to celebrate. Problem is, Benjamin is born as an eighty year old man, destined to age backwards.
After his mother dies at childbirth and his father (Jason Flemyng) is torn by grief and repelled by the sight of his wrinkly, arthritic son – drops him off on the doorstep of a retirement home. The home is run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who takes in the little miracle without a second thought. Henson delivers a shining performance, a combination of comic relief and an entrance point for understanding Benjamin’s situation.
Growing up in a retirement home for Benjamin has its benefits. He blends in, no questions asked. The only person, besides Queenie, that seems to catch onto Benjamin’s real age is one of the elderly women’s granddaughters, Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett. Daisy and Benjamin make an instant connection but don’t manage to connect until their late thirties, when the two finally appear the same age.
What really drives this movie is the story. Pitt plays Benjamin as charming and patient as ever. Benjmin seems to think he has no choice but to take life as it comes and be thankful of his strange lot in life. Even when his father reveals himself, after all those years, Benjamin fails to show any trace of anger. Disappointed? Sure, but there’s no point in wasting time holding grudges. For most of the film, Pitt portrayal is moving, but a few times he manages to make Benjamin a bit of a bore.
Daisy’s emotions, on the other hand, are kept close to the surface. Her patience for their difference in appearances fluctuates and she hates the idea of getting older. Blanchett plays Daisy flawlessly, gracefully letting on her inner struggle with the curious circumstance of her love life. But in the end, both actors should be commended for accurately playing a character at nearly every age of each’s eighty year life.
Aesthetically, the film looked manicured, like a David LaChapelle photogaph. I had trouble deciphering what was digitally inserted and what was real. That went for humans, too – at one point or another everyone was looking like avatars. The story is also told from Benjamin’s diary, read by Daisy’s daughter while Daisy is in the hospital in New Orleans approaching her end. That sort of narration overload does get a bit tiring. Also, a sub plot is that Hurricane Katrina is approaching New Orleans. This is an awkward tie-in and forces a mixture of emotions not at all related to the core story. It for some reason feels a bit inappropriate.
At times the film can feel a bit like “Big Fish” but it’s less magical and what “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has going for it is an ability to make the audience relate to it’s main characters, despite their aging orientation. It clocks in at nearly three hours but there wasn’t a moment where my mind drifted.
See Brad Pitt talk about the film on Charlie Rose