Movie Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
By Matthew Huntley
January 5, 2009
The movie might have felt more magical and wondrous had Forrest Gump not already come along. But even 14 years later, Button lacks that film's freshness and emotional hook. Up until about the two-thirds mark, after Benjamin and Daisy reunite and "meet in the middle" as far as age, I never felt a bond with the characters. I was always interested in what they were doing, but I can't say I deeply cared about them. The director, David Fincher, keeps viewers at a distance instead of letting us participate in the larger-than-life story. Perhaps it was due to the nature of the story itself, but for most of the movie, I felt like an outsider looking in.
Pitt is handsome, of course, but the movie doesn't give him enough range of emotions to really act. Oddly enough, he plays sort of the straight man here. He's likable and sincere, and he allows himself to become physically transformed, but the man underneath all the makeup and effects is sort of uninteresting compared to everyone around him. Even his voice-overs seemed flat. The best performance in the film comes from Taraji P. Henson as Queenie, who has a definite screen presence and will surely be seen more after this film. She's delightfully animated without going over the top.
On a technical level, Benjamin Button is amazing to behold in terms of its production design, its photography and its makeup and special effects, all of which are top-notch. The filmmakers convinced me Brad Pitt would look the way Benjamin did at each stage of his life and they were truly beautiful effects instead of distracting ones. Amazingly, the movie let me see the beauty of old age.
In the end, reverse-aging isn't what Benjamin Button is about, and that's probably why seeing Brad Pitt grow younger didn't end up feeling like a gimmick. The movie is about seizing every opportunity that comes our way - whether it's taking a ride on a tugboat or teaching a dance class - and looking at people who are different as special. To me, the movie also spoke about how age, which seems to be so relevant to human beings, is beside the point when it comes to living and loving. However old or frail a person may be, it's important for all of us to become age-blind as much as we strive to become color blind.
I'm not going to call The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a great film. Many of its themes and techniques feel recycled from other movies, and I'm not sure the movie had to be as long as it is (it clocks in at 166 minutes). I was never bored during the film, but some of its scenes, including the prelude about the clockmaker, or the scene about chance, felt unnecessary (instead of setting up the movie with the clockmaker's story, why not make Benjamin's birth completely inexplicable?). But even with its flaws, Fincher and his crew fill this enormous production with enough wonder and emotion for it to be called a worthy achievement.