CAPSULE: More than just a film, David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a genuine accomplishment. It stylistically shows a span of history, carefully orchestrating an evolution of style and mood that tracks the passing years. This is an intelligent fantasy with a beautifully sustained and intricate attention to tone. Almost certainly this haunting fantasy will be my best film of 2008. This is a loose adaptation and a translation forward in time of the story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
The digital special effects revolution that is now in its fourth decade has reached a higher point of maturity when the question is no longer "What can I put in my movie?" and it is now "How do effects help me to tell this story." That is what the effects do in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. They are so seamlessly effective in conveying the story that the director, here David Fincher, can just tell the story he wants to tell. In this case the story is vaguely reminiscent of FORREST GUMP with several parallels. That is not surprising since Eric Roth wrote both screenplays. Benjamin Button (played by Brad Pitt among others in what may come to be the role Pitt is remembered for) was born in 1919 an old man and lives his life getting younger. Along the way we see a wide swath of American history. Like in FORREST GUMP we see his tortured relationship with a woman from whom his condition separates him. This is Daisy, played beautifully (when an adult) by Cate Blanchett. In this case his relationship starts out grandfatherly and the two get closer to the same age until they pass each other into a relationship reminiscent of the end of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
At 159 minutes, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is very deliberately paced to lull the viewer into the period feel and to allow him to ease into the fantasy story. Yet there is always more than enough on the screen to involve the viewer. Fincher creates the feel of the period directly and by insetting small stories done in the style of cinema of the time. All sorts of technical aspects are done very nicely including makeup that ages (or un-ages) the characters. One finds oneself impressed with Cate Blanchett's dancing, but later wondering if it might be the result of digital wizardry. The one place where the attention to detail lets us down is in insufficient resemblance between actors playing the same character at different ages.
The tale is told in flashback, read from a letter once written to a woman now dying in a New Orleans hospital. The letter tells the story of the life of the title character. His mother died giving him birth and his father (Jason Flemyng), in grief and abhorrence for the monstrous looking baby, rejects him and leaves him on the step of an underfunded nursing home. From birth the child looks more like an old man, which is just what he turns out to be physically. He is adopted by the black care-giver Queenie (lovingly played by Taraji P. Henson) and raised as an old man in the home. Eric Roth's screenplay sticks to purely fictional characters, but he does meet someone who is based on the real-life Ota Benga, the pygmy who was put in a zoo.
This film is a technical triumph, but not one whose touches call attention away from the plot line. It is a beautiful mood piece. I rate it +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. Side note: I do not think we saw all seven lightning strikes. I think it was 2-2-1-1. Did I miss one?
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0421715/
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Mark R. Leeper email@example.com Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper