Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher, 2008 (7.8*)
I'm usually a fan of David Fincher's films, each one has an element of fantasy, yet is made to seem real. Fight Club had Ed Norton battling his insanity, with friends; The Game found Michael Douglas running from unseen enemies as a birthday present from brother Sean Penn. Only Zodiac attempted to be factual, and that was based on the theory of a journalist. Here Fincher films an F. Scott Fitzgerald fantasy story, thanks to an excellent screenplay by Eric Roth, an Oscar®-winner for the Forrest Gump screenplay. This script is not as sharp or crackling with lines, but does treat its subject with a certain reverent gentility.

Benjamin Button is born on the day World War I ended, and his mother died in childbirth. His dad, taking a look at the infant, who was born old, leaves him on the steps of a nearby house for the elderly, and mama for Benjamin becomes an African-American who works in the house, played by Oscar®-nominee Taraji P. Henson. While growing but remaining old he meets a little girl that becomes his lifetime friend, later played by Cate Blanchett. Even as a short, old-looking child, the role is played by Brad Pitt in an amazing Oscar®-winning makeup job.

We eventually discover along with Benjamin that he's not growing older but younger and he adapts to feeling better daily by taking his first job on a tugboat. Fincher makes both the river journeys of the tugboat and later some shots of Lake Ponchetrain look like the old hand-tinted postcards, so the early parts of the film are steeped in Americana. The later parts chronologically, and how the film actually begins for the viewer, use a plot device of having Julia Ormand read Benjamin's diary to an invalid in a hospital who knew him, so we get Benjamin's story in retrospect and from his own words.

This is a gentle, if lengthy fable, running about 2 hrs, 48 minutes. The length kills the pace a little, but fans of film fables such as Field of Dreams and Big Fish should enjoy this, as well as fans of David Fincher. The cast is excellent and also includes Tilda Swinton. The film received 13 Oscar® nominations, the most for 2008, but lost to Slumdog Millionaire in nearly every major category, a film with admittedly more energy and better pace. Three Oscars® for art direction, visual effects, and makeup.


Shubhajit May 10, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

Despite the impressive acting and striking SFX, the movie somehow failed to affect me the way I'd hoped it would, especially with the hyper surrounding it when it was released. A felt a more gritty, in-your-face kind of approach would have resurrected memories of some of Fincher's best works like Fight Club and Seven. By suffusing the script with maudlin melodrama, Fincher, I felt, failed to make best use of his inherent skills as a storyteller.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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