August 5, 2009

Review: Investigating 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

"Nothing ever lasts and what a shame that is."

I finally got around to catching up on one of 2008's most notable films, David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I had a few thoughts. The film is wonderfully made, gorgeous to look at, and is a technical marvel, but I felt its storytelling was secondary to his advanced filmmaking techniques as the momentum and pace of the film severely meanders until the third act. Frankly, this is one damn long movie.

Brad Pitt is perfect for the role as Benjamin, not particularly for is debatable acting chops, but because of who he is and his cult of celebrity. Pitt's face is ideal because it is so recognizable, so well-known, familiar and nice to look at, but at the same time very stoic and static. The role is not particularly difficult or labouring as Benjamin essentially keeps a child-like quality throughout his life in the film and I am not sure exactly how much the other actors who played the role with Pitt's face superimposed contributed to the acting. I am willing to bet a fair bit. I debate how much his Oscar nomination for actor in a leading role is deserved as due to the seamless special effects, its hard to tell how much of Brad Pitt is exactly in the movie. The consistent presence of Pitt's face throughout Benjamin's story did a good job grounding the performance of the character.

This very long film based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald where very little happens lacked a clear focus and direction until the love story between Benjamin and Daisy finally ramps up. The first half crawls by as Benjamin struggles through the trials of old age while exploring childhood, which is fairly repetitive, slow-moving, if still wondrous and magical.

I could not wait until the love story slowly formed and an actual conflict presented itself. The real dramatic weight of the film is realized only when Cate Blanchett gets to play Daisy as an adult. The main arc of the film seemed to be the tragedy of love when Benjamin and Daisy struggle to be together when they cannot grow old together. The romantic hurdles and hardships feels kind of forced and only partially developed as it shares similar story beats with the also Eric Roth scripted Forrest Gump.

Things seem to just happen to Benjamin until the idea of slowly growing into adolescence late in life presents a real obstacle to his life. This conflict of getting younger as your loved ones get old and die is not fleshed out until well into the last third of the film. Benjamin does not even recognize this tragedy until someone points it out to him. Fincher does too much in presenting the narrative scope of the film. There is the Hurricane Katrina-era New Orleans deathbed diary storytelling device as well as the beginning clockmaker story that frames the film that is redundant at times. It feels unnecessarily overwrought as a way to portray dramatic importance that the rest of the film does not support.

I only wish more time was put into crafting the crux of the love story and conflicts presented as Benjamin gets younger as he gets older. If only the last half to third of the film was more mapped out in the scripting stage and the first act or so was condensed then the audience could more quickly marvel in the romance between Pitt and Blachette's characters. The scene where Pitt shows up as a young man after many years is haunting and touching in its simplicity and scope. More of the film should have this kind of dramatic weight as a pay off to the solid acting performances.

The film kind of goes by slowly until Pitt and Blanchett show up looking like themselves as subplots and side characters never seem completely formed. It never really goes into themes of getting old or the narcissism of youth. I found not enough was said about life and aging as one lives backwards going forward. Benjamin does not seem to understand the unique situation of having the wisdom of age and the presence of youth.

"We're meant to lose the people we love.
How else would we know how important they are to us?"
I felt the film did not fully follow through on the promise of its premise. Almost too much was focused on the beautiful storytelling, visual effects and not enough on the actual love story. I did not walk away feeling so much touched by the film's story as I was moved by the storytelling. Curiosity for Benjamin's condition did not get the best of me. I wanted to experience more by getting younger through the film.

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