An ambitious if poorly-paced film that struggles to sustain for long stretches despite the incredible technical wizardry on show.
Dir. David Fincher
2008 | USA | Drama/Fantasy/Romance | 166 mins | 2.40:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton
Plot: Tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences.
Awards: Won 3 Oscars – Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup. Nom. for 10 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Sound
Distributor: Warner Bros (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theaters – first published on 10 Feb 2009)
There are many reasons to look forward to seeing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. First, it is nominated for a whopping thirteen Academy Awards including Best Picture. Secondly, it has a unique storyline and a marketable lead actor: Brad Pitt’s Benjamin is born old and dies young. Thirdly, it is directed by David Fincher, the visual stylist who brought us acclaimed thrillers like Seven (1995), Fight Club (1999), and Zodiac (2007). Many would have seen it because of the first two reasons; I chose to watch it because of the third.
Fincher is a talented and respected director whose stylish films often stand out from the crowd. Apart from being crowd pleasers, most of his films are also quite highly-rated by critics. While Zodiac marked a career high for Fincher and is, in my opinion, his best and most mature film thus far, Benjamin Button unfortunately brings him back to square one. Fincher shows that he is capable of the mundane as well; Benjamin Button is languidly-paced and is a drag to sit through. Worse, it runs slightly less than three hours, which means patience can be tested to its limits here.
On a positive note, Benjamin Button features incredible visual effects especially in the first third of the film when Brad Pitt’s character ages backwards. Employing the concept of the ‘blue screen’ technology, the filmmakers actually used Pitt’s face on an aged body of a much shorter man (who wears a blue mask in this case) to realistically show that Benjamin is born old, wrinkly, and small. Special makeup is also used to enhance the features of Benjamin. However, what is even more impressive is the painstaking editing that went into ensuring that Benjamin’s head and body movements correlate fluidly with each other despite them being filmed in the same location with two different actors.
“Benjamin, we’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?”
In addition, Benjamin Button is gorgeously photographed, which is not a surprise as Fincher films have always been aesthetically pleasing. Sadly, this is eventually marred by a surprisingly poor screenplay by Eric Roth, the Oscar-winning writer of Forrest Gump (1994). The film begins in the most tepid way imaginable: An old dying woman lying on the hospital bed with a life-changing secret to reveal. She gives her daughter a precious diary (which contains Benjamin’s life story) to read aloud to her before she dies. The next two-and-a-half hours become a lackluster account of a person’s life through the decades which echoes similarities with Forrest Gump. Roth, what an absolutely brilliant way to earn yourself another Oscar nomination!
The narrative is too straightforward and there is no vibrancy or thrust that goes into the storytelling. Occasionally, it gets mildly interesting but only for fleeting moments. Despite the lengthy runtime, the characters are not well-developed enough, especially the supporting ones by Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth Abbott) and Jason Flemyng (Thomas Button). Leading cast Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett show that they have onscreen chemistry, but their acting is way too low-key and to a large extent, disappointing. Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button must be commended for its technical achievements and its fabulous production design. But it could also be the film that lands Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire the most coveted prize on Oscar night.