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Overall Rating
3.58

Awesome39.13%
Worth A Look: 20.29%
Just Average: 13.04%
Pretty Crappy: 14.49%
Sucks: 13.04%

4 reviews, 45 user ratings



Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Time Is On His Side"
5 stars

Over the course of his first six feature films, David Fincher has proven himself to be one of the very best American directors working today--with his obsessively detailed and meticulous filmmaking approach, his obvious technological virtuosity and his willingness to defy expectations with each new project that he undertakes, he is perhaps the closest thing to a new version of Stanley Kubrick that we have. And yet, even though I have been amazed by practically everything that he has done to date (yes, even the scandalously underrated “Alien 3” and the better-than-it-needed-to-be “Panic Room”), when it was announced that he had signed on to direct the long-gestating adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” I must admit to a bit of uncertainty regarding his ability to properly handle such a project. Oh sure, I had no doubt that he could handle the immense technical challenges that were no doubt the reason why the film was stuck in development hell for nearly 15 years as people talents as varied as Ron Howard, Gary Ross, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman struggled in vain to bring it from the page to the screen. However, to truly pull off this story required the kind of emotional approach that wasn’t exactly in evidence in Fincher’s admittedly chilly oeuvre--the closest that he ever came in his earlier films to the kind of genuine sentiment required here was the finale of “The Game” and that is arguably the least convincing sequence that he has ever filmed. And yet, something about the material must have struck a chord with Fincher because while it starts off as an astounding technical achievement, it ends up as an equally astounding emotional work that is easily the best film of 2008.

Jettisoning practically every aspect of Fitzgerald’s original story outside of its basic narrative conceit, the film chronicles the decidedly unusual life and times of one Benjamin Button, a man who claims “I was born under unusual circumstances” and believe me, he isn’t kidding. When he emerges from his mother’s womb in 1918 (the same day as the end of World War I), he inexplicably has all of the physical characteristics that one would ordinarily find in a man in his eighties. Distraught over the death of his wife in childbirth and the bizarrely malformed result of that birth, Benjamin’s father, New Orleans business magnate Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) takes the infant out into the night and abandons him on the steps of a nearby nursing home where he is taken in by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), the sensitive and nurturing caretaker of the home who takes pity on Benjamin and decides to care for it during what she is assured will be a very short life span. Not only does Benjamin survive, it appears that he is aging backwards and before too long, he looks enough like an ordinary old man to live among the other residents of the home, even though he is mentally a pre-teen. Because of his condition, Queenie prefers to keep in within the confines of the home but Benjamin’s wanderlust occasionally gets the better of him. As a child, he is spirited away from the home by a visiting pygmy to go into the city for a taste of both root beer and the real world and later on, he hires on for an eventful day as an extra hand on a boat run by Captain Mike (Jared Harris), who believes that Benjamin is a 60-year-old virgin and takes him to a local brothel to cure that--a trip that has added significance when he unwittingly meets someone from his past.

Although Benjamin goes on to have many adventures and meets any number of fascinating people along the way, the one who marks him the deepest is Daisy (Cate Blanchett). When they first meet at the nursing home when she is just a child visiting her grandmother, the two instantly form a friendship that is as innocent as can be (they are, after all, the same age) despite the suspicions of some people (since they do not, after all, look the same age). As time passes, they continue to reappear in each others lives despite long absences--Benjamin goes off to war when Captain Mike’s ship is commissioned by the Navy during World War II and later becomes an incredibly successful businessman and Daisy pursues a career as a ballerina--but things go wrong when he turns down her overt romantic overtures one night and when he realizes his mistake and goes to New York (where she is appearing on stage in “Carousel”) to win her heart, he is crushed to see her with another man. Later, after Daisy’s dancing career is tragically cut short, the two, who now finally appear to be about the same age, finally come together (“Will you still love me when I have acne?”) and eke out a blissful life with each other for a few years that includes the birth of a daughter. As the years pass, however, and Benjamin gets younger and younger while Daisy gets older and older, the incompatible nature of their lives--how will an aging Daisy be able to care for Benjamin as he slips further and further into childhood?--leads to him making a decision that is both practical and heartbreaking.

Because the film is in part a journey through 20th century America as seen through the eyes of a decidedly unusual and passive individual, many people will no doubt compare “Benjamin Button” with Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 hit “Forrest Gump”--ironically, both films were penned by the same screenwriter, Eric Roth. While the two films may have that basic conceit in common, the end results couldn’t be more different. While Zemeckis painted a blackly comic and cynical version of Boomer-era history, one that was so successfully disguised by an added layer of sentiment that most viewers didn’t realize just how dark it really was, while showing off the movie magic that could be performed thanks to the then-cutting edge CGI technology of the time, Fincher and Roth have deeper things in mind. From a technical standpoint, “Benjamin Button” is as stunning of an achievement that “Gump” was back in the day--although the more elderly versions of Benjamin are perhaps a little too creepy and Gollum-like for their own good at times, the extraordinary amount of detail that Fincher and his army of technicians have brought to their visual realization of New Orleans over the span of a near-century (not to mention period recreations of New York, Paris and Russia) is so impressive that it make the fastidious recreation of 1970’s San Francisco in “Zodiac” almost look like a rough draft by comparison.

The important thing, however, is that like “Zodiac,” these technological amazements have been deployed solely to service the story and the characters rather than to serve as a substitute to them. While it could be argued that the screenplay is largely a collection of vignettes showing the formative events in Benjamin’s life, I never found the episodic nature of the story to be that bothersome. For one thing, the individual tales--be they poignant (Benjamin’s encounters in an abandoned Russian hotel lobby with a mysterious woman played by Tilda Swinton), terrifying (a harrowing sequence in which Captain Mike’s ship is spotted and attacked by a U-boat), tragic (the details surrounding the ending of Daisy’s dancing career) or darkly funny (a running gag involving a man who has been repeatedly struck by lightning over the years)--are so beautifully staged and executed that we are immediately captivated by each one. More importantly, Roth has so deftly woven these stories together that the screenplay feels like one grand story instead of a compilation of smaller ones. I also appreciated the fact that the screenplay downplays the urge to distractingly push its luck by having its characters on the scene of major historical events--anyone dreading the idea of watching scenes along the lines of Brad Pitt shaking hands with JFK a la Forrest Gump will be relieved to know that there is none of that on display here. Instead of going for easy crowd-pleasing moments like that, Fincher and Roth are more concerned with offering up a meditation on such weightier issue as the fragility of life and the inevitability of the passing of time, no matter which way you are going, and while this approach may result in a film that is slightly chillier in tone at times than “Forrest Gump,” it makes for a more moving and enriching experience in the end. The only time that the screenplay steps wrong is in the story’s framing device that involves a now-elderly Daisy on her hospital deathbed asking her estranged daughter (Julia Ormond) to read from what turns out to be Benjamin’s diary as Hurricane Katrina approaches--while there is nothing technically wrong with these moments, they come across as a weak retread of the similar device used in “Forrest Gump” and Roth should have either figured out a more ingenious way into the story or simply dumped the frame altogether.

Although the praise that Fincher has received as a director over the years has largely been relegated to his technical achievements, he has also shown himself to be highly adept at getting impressive performances out of his actors as well and that is certainly the case here. In his third collaboration with the filmmaker (following “Seven” and “Fight Club”), Brad Pitt does a marvelous job of embodying Benjamin both physically (with the aid of extensive makeup and plenty of CGI work aimed at creating his various looks) and emotionally--while some have criticized his performance for being too quiet and passive, I think he hits all the right notes in creating the character of someone who, through no fault of his own, is always one step removed from the world he is constantly observing. As Daisy, Cate Blanchett turns in yet another in a long string of outstanding performances--she and Pitt play beautifully off of each other and when their characters finally manage to come together after decades of waiting, the moment is truly glorious. Beyond those two central performances, the film finds room for a number of lovely supporting turns as well--Taraji P. Henson is moving and spirited as Benjamin’s adoptive mother, Jared Harris is hilarious as the crude-but-loyal Captain Mike and Tilda Swinton creates such a fascinating character in her few scenes in that Russian hotel that you may come away from this film wishing to one day see a spin-off dedicated entirely to her.

Blending together cutting-edge technology with old-fashioned storytelling values, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a knockout piece of contemporary cinema that will blow the mind and touch the heart in equal measure. Yes, it is a lengthy movie (it clocks in at a few minutes shy of three hours) but it is told with such skill that, unlike its main character, you never feel the passage of time. It is the kind of ambitious swing-for-the-fences filmmaking that few American movies these days even attempt anymore and even fewer are able to pull off successfully. In other words, David Fincher has done it once again--he has reconfirmed his position as one of the great filmmakers working today and given us a film that is sure to go down as an instant classic.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17386&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/25/08 01:52:32
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User Comments

4/16/11 brian I wanted to like it better. Its length not a problem for me, but story falls apart late. 4 stars
4/25/10 mr.mike Worth seeing but the viewer feels detached from what is happening on screen. 4 stars
12/13/09 Micah Loved the visual texture but much too long and every plot twist felt dead to me. 3 stars
12/13/09 mwilde Have I ever told you I've been struck by lightining seven times? 4 stars
11/09/09 millersxing Dumb. But I liked the characters and wish they were in a better movie. 3 stars
10/18/09 auzzie chickie great. It felt wierd watching ben as an old man under the table with the young girl though. 4 stars
10/18/09 daveyt slow but enjoyable, why didn't he become a grown-up baby in the end though? illogical 4 stars
7/26/09 Abhishek Chakraborty it's ok...really slow though. kinda movie you could have a nice sleep for half an hour in. 3 stars
7/21/09 PAUL SHORTT BEAUTIFULLY PRESENTED AND OFTEN POIGNANT FANTASY, BACKED BY GOOD PERFORMANCES 4 stars
7/06/09 michael mann very slow, boring and average 1 stars
6/29/09 the dork knight Melancholy storybook tale with no real point. But....Tilda Swinton FTW. 4 stars
6/13/09 Simon Fascinating premise, memorably tender at points, but no excuse for such a hollow Button.. 4 stars
6/12/09 Wiseman Pretentious garbage 1 stars
5/29/09 Corky After all is said and done, doesn't really hava all that much to say... 3 stars
5/18/09 Dr.Lao Wish fulfillment for aging baby boomers. Pretentious crap 1 stars
5/11/09 Ron Patterson A man builds a clock that runs backwards therefore a child was born that aged backwards. 1 stars
5/08/09 Samantha Pruitt great story the visuals are awesome! 4 stars
5/04/09 Steve D Very good performance by Brad Pitt 4 stars
4/20/09 Kerset I'm getting to old for this shit, pass me the fast-forward button 2 stars
3/07/09 ACTION MOVIE FAN FOR A NEARLY 3 JOUR FILM SEE WATCHMEN NOT THIS TRASH 1 stars
3/05/09 B3tt3R 7h4N U Just horrible, nothing but horrible. 1 stars
2/21/09 Piz Interesting story but incredibly dull for looong stretches. A snoozer with heart. 3 stars
2/11/09 Sander Crap 1 stars
2/11/09 MP Bartley Tingles with melancholy and technically ravishing - but Button as a man is a blank. 4 stars
2/11/09 aliceinwonderland I've seen a lot better. Nothing special. 3 stars
1/25/09 Rob Wilkins Herman Bloom?Try again.It's Winston Groom.Japanese sub?Uh-uh it's German U-boat 3 stars
1/19/09 carly urban the best film of 2008 hands down 5 stars
1/12/09 Man Out 6 Bucks Leaden fat overblown pompous moralizing messagey inert bathetic crap targeted 4 awards 1 stars
1/10/09 I too long, too slow...too bad! 2 stars
1/08/09 Lenore Francois A unique & intriguing story, however a little too long. 4 stars
1/06/09 Beth Slye Beautifully filmed, a mesmerizing story with wonderful characters. Will stay with you. 5 stars
1/04/09 renee Much too long. Not a love story. Flat main character who didn't want to engage in life. Zzz 2 stars
1/03/09 Waltizzle!!! Beautiful film!!! All there is to say!!! 5 stars
1/02/09 Don L Excellent movie I will long remember. 5 stars
1/02/09 jcjs33 decent acting, too too long, something lacking, dragged, mediocre story 3 stars
1/01/09 R.W. Welch Episodic but ingenious. Pacing lags in spots. 4 stars
12/31/08 Gil Carlson Pacing is a problem, but the film is ultimately transcendant, moving and ground breaking. 5 stars
12/30/08 Amy O Great review but movie put me to sleep a few times...too long, too slow. 4 stars
12/29/08 richard monahan one of the most tedious films ever 1 stars
12/29/08 Mark R Outstanding movie. Totally engrossing. 5 stars
12/29/08 Quigley One of the most interesting film experiences I've had in a long time. Hail David Fincher. 5 stars
12/28/08 RW Extremely boring movie. Spot on review. 2 stars
12/28/08 Sean Childress Erik Childress....illiterate fratboy or just plain douche bag? You decide. 5 stars
12/25/08 Harold Martinez Thanks for putting my thoughts in writting... 3 stars
12/25/08 anne onimiss LOVED IT!!!! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 05-May-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Dec-2008
  DVD: 05-May-2009



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