DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Add Comment 14 May 2009 by Joe Galm
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(The Criterion Collection)

As a follow-up to the fiscally unfortunate Zodiac, director David Fincher, in crafting The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-an epically scaled tale concerning life's more defining moments-propels himself back into widespread relevance. Of course, Fincher was never far off the radar of movie enthusiasts and has he been successful in the past, though it wasn't until Button that the Academy started noticing. The public did too. Fincher's latest took in $127.5 million domestically on a high of 2,988 screens.

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Films like this are hard to approach, mainly because the movie concerns itself not with conflict, but with the entirety of a life. That life, of course, is that of Benjamin Button (Pitt), a man born in the physical condition of an 80 year old, who then goes on to age backwards. Though the movie is based on a short by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it aims to address more numerous and, dare I say, ambitious themes. Fitzgerald's piece, which is primarily about how youth is wasted on the young, is transformed by Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) into a story about how we measure and remember our lives; that recognizing a moment, and living it, is as important as the legacy we leave. These ideas or, shades of them, are abound throughout the film though subtleties are oftentimes smothered beneath the picture's scale. What results is an almost instilled struggle between the exploration of the story's innumerable ideas and the vast technical undertaking the filmmakers tackled.

Besides being born with his inherently interesting condition, Benjamin lives an eventful life and we, as the viewer, are privy to witnessing his many "firsts". We see his first sexual experience, his first exposure to alcohol, first kiss, first love, and so on. We see his playtime chum Daisy (Cate Blanchett) grow older as he grows younger, knowing they'll eventually "meet in the middle" - a movement exercising the film's "live for the moment" mentality. Of course, the idea is that we reflect on Benjamin's condition of age-introversion and how it affects his perspective of these events. However, the primary focus of the film seems to be on the execution of creating a conceivable world in which Benjamin exists, one that's nostalgic and romanticized and not necessarily thematically forged. The atmosphere of the film is its strong suit in this regard, particularly in its utilization of mixing CGI and live footage to maintain a cohesive feel throughout the sometimes-trying runtime (Note: I only say "trying" due to some trivial expository dialogue and a counter-cut narrative that could have been excluded).

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Screenplay: Eric Roth; based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Director: David Fincher
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Cean Chaffin
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking
Running time: 167 minutes

Extras:

The mechanics that make up Benjamin Button are explored in substantial depth in a 3-hour "making of" featurette that nicely compliments the Criterion release. Despite enjoying the film on some levels, namely its potential for being existentially evocative, I never felt fulfilled by the end product. From the standpoint of craft its decidedly excellent yet it can also be glossy and clumsy-sometimes careless-in its projection of theme. In this bonus feature we get a hint as to why. By seeing the complexity of the project broken down into individual pieces, it becomes apparent just how hard Fincher and company worked in demonstrating the necessary care in telling such a scalar story. In way of meeting the picture's technological demands, something becomes lost in translation from script-to-screen. The image and atmosphere do work well together, yet this doesn't save a handful of arbitrary narrative touches from being, well, arbitrary. In a way, the movie seems to be taken in too much by its own sense of whimsy, becoming abruptly straightforward, as if attempting to convey an air of poeticism in some of its many monologues-a movement that ultimately fails. The film does have some interesting moments, both emotional and aesthetic, but refrains from giving these compositions enough contextual support. Nonetheless, the picture is of some importance, both because of its beauty and how it was achieved and I'd recommend giving it and its "making of" counterpart a gander.

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