Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

2009-03-01 00:00

OSCAR hype is a thing of the past as the leading nominated contender, Benjamin Button, arrives in town. Going in to the Oscar ceremony with 13 nominations and emerging with just three wins (visual effects, makeup and art direction) leaves an outside chance of the film’s box office numbers being hampered, but make no error — this is an extraordinary film. Most critics agree it’s sumptuous to look at. All I can say is it’s a good thing David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett weren’t at the Cine Centre on Friday night’s viewing. Once again, a multi-billion dollar industry comes down to a projector … and the flipping thing was out of focus.

But besides the local technical glitch, there are a lot of good things to talk about in this film.

Adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of a man who ages in reverse, the script — written by Eric Roth — seems much like Forrest Gump (which he also wrote) backwards. The story begins with an aged Daisy (Blanchett) on her deathbed, who shares her story with her daughter (Julia Ormond) via the diary of one Benjamin Button (Pitt).

He narrates how, as a newborn geriatric, he was abandoned on the steps of an old-age home and raised by a nurse (the wonderful Taraji P. Henson). He meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and their paths criss-cross as the seasons turn. At 17, Benjamin leaves home and sets sail with a motley crew of tugboat sailors. Daisy, meanwhile, begins by heading off to New York to pursue life in the fast lane and a professional career in ballet.

After a number of missed opportunities (and Benjamin’s interim fling with middle-aged Elizabeth played by Tilda Swinton), a fatal accident brings a humbled Daisy back to her hometown, where she and Benjamin finally settle together.

It is around this point that the film takes on the director, David Fincher’s, trademark gloomy overtone. Some classic quotes from his interviews include: “I’m always interested in movies that scar” and “I have demons you can’t even imagine”. It shows. After Daisy and Benjamin live out a few blissful, impossibly beautiful years together, Daisy gives birth to a baby girl, and the hard questions begin, and Fincher leans towards the morose rather than the optimistic.

However, there are a number of memorable elements in this film: the masterfully constructed landscape of New Orleans; the fact that digital technology can make Brad Pitt convincingly look like a garden gnome, and that great moment where Daisy asks “Will you still love me when I’m old and wrinkled?” to which Benjamin asks “Will you love me when I’m young and have acne?” All the actors inhabit their characters well: Pitt, while not quite in the league of Sean Penn, suits the role here of Benjamin with his timeless, blank expression, while Blanchett, who voices Daisy from childhood to the deathbed, is engaging throughout.

A simple measure of a good film is does it keep your attention throughout the 166 minutes, and Benjamin Button does.

****

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