10 January 2009
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I never quite understood the appeal of Forrest Gump. I mean, I get it. A man lives through a lot of history and stumbles into major world events and throughout it all he's just trying to find his love and take care of his mama. Interesting concept I suppose, but not particularly well made. Definitely not deserving of a best picture Oscar. Just goes to show the infectious power of optimism to ride a movie to awards season glory (as we're about to see happen again with Slumdog Millionaire.
But enough about mediocre films. I bring up Gump because The Curious Case of Benjamin Button shares with it both a plotline and a screenwriter (check other sites for detailed breakdowns of similarities between the two films, culminating in what might be a case of self-plagiarism). That said, Button has the distinction of being a well-made film.
Visually, it's quite stunning. This might be one of the best uses of computer-generated effects ever seen, because it's actually put to good use for character portrayal rather than merely background painting. Brad Pitt is able to extend his performance beyond the limits of his body and what makeup can do. It's quite a feat.
The story has surprising drive for its type, being able to pull interest from an audience for over two and a half hours with not many clear goals and objectives for the title character. But it's as much Daisy's (Cate Blanchett) picture as it is Benjamin's. So we watch in hope that these two satellites orbiting the breadth of the earth will finally collide.
That said, when they finally collide, it becomes a little less interesting, for a time. It's a sad fact that happiness is not as interesting to watch as pain. But things don't stay that way. For most of the picture, indeed in its most interesting parts when Benjamin is traveling, Benjamin's strange malady is almost an afterthought. It consumes the physical nature of the character but his spirit is enough to push it into the foreground. The attention that must be paid to it by Benjamin and Daisy toward the end sparks new life into the plot for the last section of the film. It's strange and almost off-putting in a way. It mirrors real life, where for most of our youth we don't have to think about our physical limitations. We can do anything. Then suddenly, our bodies put limits on our dreams. Things cannot be as they once were, and we start to despair.
The film has many of these interesting insights, stemming from Fitzgerald's original story, and, to a lesser extent, Eric Roth's screenplay. But it's David Fincher and his actors who breathe great life into it. They meander and detour, sometimes frustratingly, but always come back to the central point: that we have a finite number of opportunities in life, and they will end. It's a flawed film, but a good one, and one that shows that David Fincher does have some heart in him, beyond the flashy tricks and creeping dread showed in films like Fight Club and Zodiac. He took good advantage of this opportunity, and it shows.