CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, THE
The baby, born on the last day of WWI in Louisiana, is hideously ugly - perhaps deformed. His mother dies in childbirth and his button manufacturing tycoon father (Jason Flemyng) abandons him. Rescued by Queenie (Taraji P. Hanson), she raises him, accepting of his ugliness - which turns out to be simply old age. He's like an 80 year old, with bad skin and wispy grey hair. He survives and meets Daisy, a little girl with blue eyes, but their paths are separated, and young old Benjamin travels the world, gets a job on a tug and finds himself in WWII. As he gets younger and stronger, Benjamin (Brad Pitt) never forgets Daisy, but he has affairs, including one with the married Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). It's not until much later, after Daisy (Cate Blanchett) has grown up and had become a ballet dancer and had her career cut short by an accident, that he meets her again and rekindles their childhood love. She is just about his own age now, but that won't last; he keeps getting younger. He has kept a diary all this time, which reveals it all, as Caroline (Julia Ormond) reads it to her old and dying mother ... Daisy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Look at you; you're perfect, says Cate Blanchett's Daisy, when she and Brad Pitt's Benjamin Button miraculously reach the same age and fall in love. This is the moment we have been waiting for after a lengthy prologue in which we witness the circumstances of a baby born prematurely old with cataracts, arthritis and skin disorders. But as the clock ticks backwards and the shrivel-faced ugly baby turns into the gloriously handsome Pitt, there's a whole new world to discover as he slowly grows younger. The fact that the central love story is convincing and surprisingly moving is entirely due to sublime performances from Pitt, Blanchett and special effect make up and technology at the highest level. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this most curious of love stories is elongated to just under three hours by director David Fincher, who caresses little details that make the film both fascinating and credible.
You never know what's coming for you, says Benjamin's adopted mother Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who embraces the abandoned misfit as her own. Early scenes of Benjamin resembling a dwarfed little old man with age spots, balding temple and wrinkled skin being brought up in a black household surrounded by the elderly are incongruous indeed, especially as we can see Pitt's well-known features through the technology and make up. When Benjamin meets Daisy for the first time, he looks like an old man; she is a gangly child. But the connection is immediate and one that lasts through the ravages of time.
The story flits backwards and forwards in time as told by Daisy, now elderly and bedridden in a hospital in New Orleans, to her daughter (Julia Ormond) - via Benjamin's own diary. But there are some problems. Blanchett's incomprehensible mumblings as the elderly Daisy are frustratingly difficult to understand while the early establishment scenes involving the young Benjamin drag interminably. But there are wonderfully rich segments too, like Benjamin's warm nightly liaisons with Tilda Swinton's married lady while the snow falls outside. Blanchett makes any guise believable, and here she is a graceful ballet dancer waiting to make a leap of faith. Finally, when Benjamin and Daisy are ready to commit to each other, we are more than ready for the consummation of their love affair. 'Sleep with me,' she purrs; 'Absolutely!' is the reply.
Fincher's handling of the final reel in which Button 'youthens' and Daisy ages is superb. Women will ooh and ah at the close ups of Pitt as he becomes more handsome than any man deserves to be. Inevitably we have an inkling of where the story is headed and we are not disappointed. The film keeps its tone intact throughout, with the inclusion of some welcome splotches of humour. I love the bizarreness of the tale and the poignancy with which it is told. I also love the fact that it will prompt many hours of discussion, when time for one, will stand still.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a beautifully made film ... but .... it is also a piece of cinematic artifice, in which the manufacture of it stands between it and us. Clearly it's not possible to treat the fantasy as a real or naturalistic story: a boy is born old, and continues to grow younger each year of his life, heading towards infancy. It's a device for writing a short story - which, like short films, rely on whimsy and surprise for effect, and can stay away from reality because they are a snapshot from the writer's imagination, and taken as such. Film is not like that, and especially not at almost three hours. This weakness scratches away at every scene. Even the fabulous make up and digital work of ageing, for instance, become distractions.
Lovingly adapted (and moved forward in time) from a piece of short literature, the story is big on novelty and sentimentality but short on tension and interest for the audience. As a reader, we contract with the author to enter their world and imagine the scenarios. As an audience, our contract is different, since the filmmaker is bound to convert the written sentence into images. This is where the trouble lies for Benjamin Button: the conversion into two dimensional moving images robs the work of its whimsical values. It's too literal.
And often too hard to hear; much of the dialogue is buried, especially that of the older Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who is the thread of the story. All too real, her deathbed mumblings are simply too hard to hear. Likewise Queenie (Taraji P. Hanson), Benjamin's adoptive mother, whose broad Southern accent, coupled with the unfortunate mix, makes her hard to understand. Others, too, like the wonderfully colourful tugboat captain Mike (Jared Harris).
Having outlined my reservations, I should detail my enthusiasms for aspects of the film: these include wonderful performances from a great cast. Cate Blanchett captures every aching nuance of her character across the decades, as does Brad Pitt, the pathetically cursed creature whose soul aches for love under the most trying of life's circumstances. He narrates the story, through a diary that is read by Daisy's daughter, Caroline -wonderfully portrayed by Julia Ormond. Tilda Swinton is stunning as a married woman who comes briefly into Benjamin's life, and Elle Fanning is adorable as the 7 year old Daisy.
Somewhat bloated and relying on its novelty value, the screenplay lumbers when it should be sprightly, and its rare moments of humour are limited to a running gag about an old man being struck by lightning - seven times. My disappointment with the film is made the more severe by the fact that it strikes so many emotional truths about humanity . . . and is so well made.
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CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, THE (M)
CAST: Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, Elias Koteas, Jason Flemyng, Julia Ormond, Peter Donald Badalamenti, Robert Towers, Tom Everett, Elle Fanning, Madisen Beaty
PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Cean Chaffin
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
SCRIPT: Eric Roth (story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Claudio Miranda
EDITOR: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
MUSIC: Alexander Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Donald Graham Burt
RUNNING TIME: 159 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2008