Directed by: David Fincher
Premise: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is a child born into the body of an eighty year old man and as he ages his body regresses, growing younger. The film follows Benjamin’s life as he grows up and his body grows younger, as witnessed by the love of his life (Cate Blanchett).
What Works: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is another great film by director David Fincher, who consistently delivers highly crafted films like Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac. Although much different from those films thematically and tonally, Benjamin Button showcases Fincher’s talents for production design and narrative unity. The story of the film deals very skillfully with the theme of mortality and uses Benjamin’s unique situation to shed some new perspectives on the subject. It is interesting to compare The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Seven Pounds, another recent film also dealing with mortality. Where Seven Pounds got lost in its own somber tone, Benjamin Button does a terrific job of transitioning between various points on the timeline, keeping its focus on the story and the characters, and integrating the theme into the plot, rather than doing it the other way around. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also very similar to Forrest Gump in its themes and structure, the romantic subplot, and even the temperament of its title character. But despite these similarities, Benjamin Button does manage to step out of Forrest Gump’s shadow. Where Forrest Gump gave the audience a retrospective on the formative years of the baby boomer generation, Benjamin Button is subtler, leaving the historical events mostly in the background and instead focusing on Benjamin’s life and his relationships and what he learns about life from his predicament and from the lives and deaths of those around him. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has some very good performances by Brad Pitt and especially by Cate Blanchett as Daisy. Blanchett is allowed a lot of the big emotional moments and Pitt breaks some new ground for himself as an actor, playing a character who is less in control and less confident than other characters that he usually plays.
What Doesn’t: This is not a conventional film either for those used to the typical Hollywood fantasy product or for those who expect a strictly realist film. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is more of a fable and as that it works wonderfully but viewers should be aware that the film does not follow many of the usual conventions of storytelling.
Bottom Line: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a terrific film that manages to deal with a very heavy subject matter but avoids the kind of self-important attitude that usually sinks a film like this. It has some great story construction and a pair of terrific performances that make it one of the best films of David Fincher’s career.
Episode: #221 (January 4, 2009)