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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2009) Director David Fincher 8 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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I have been awaiting Benjamin Button for some time now with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. Anticipation for the arrival of another David Fincher film in cinemas and trepidation because it looked like such a radical departure from his previous dark, edgy masterpieces. There was one thing we all knew for sure that Benjamin Button would be and that was beautiful, but does this tale of a man aging backwards live up to Fincher’s formidable talents? Unfortunately no.

The story itself is loosely based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story in which the eponymous Benjamin is born an old man (though the size of a baby, which doesn’t make sense within the film’s logic where Benjamin getting younger and thus smaller) and gradually gets younger, fitter and more handsome. While those around him suffer from the effects of a worn out body Benjamin gets that out of the way in the first few decades of his life rather than the last. To paraphrase Fincher the film presents the audience with the unexceptional life of an extraordinary man, and it is perhaps this which is Benjamin Button’s biggest failing.

The plot itself, for such a fantastic conceit is surprisingly dull. Very little of interest happens throughout the course of Benjamin’s life. Of course one could argue that just because Button doesn’t take a Forrest Gumpesque tour through all the major historical events of his lifetime doesn’t mean the ‘normal’ events of his life are inconsequential (they certainly aren’t), but I had a very real sense of ‘so what’ for much of Benjamin Button’s mammoth screen time. In fact the highlight of the film for me came at the time of Benjamin’s death as a young child. Horrifying, upsetting and genuinely affecting it’s bizarre to say that the death of the main character is the best part of a film but Fincher handles dark so much better than twee and saccharine that it’s hardly surprising.

The easiest way to sum up the film is as a much better looking but duller Forrest Gump. The two films share a screenwriter in Eric Roth and the similarities are obvious even down to the catch phrases of the two films ‘you never know what you’re gonna get’ and ‘you never know what’s coming for ya’. It’s not a real problem but you will get a serious case of deja vu throughout Benjamin Button.

The large cast all do a pretty sterling job with what they’ve got. The two leads Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett do as much as one would expect from actors of their calibre, but no more. It’s also questionable how much of the performance can be labelled Pitt’s as other actors portray old man Benjamin (with Pitt’s face digitally transposed completely convincingly on top) for a great deal of the film’s run time. Taraji P. Henson also stands out as Benjamin’s adoptive mother Queenie, though the strong black New Orleans mother figure is a character we have seen countless times before.

Where the film really shines however is in its technical execution. Fincher has done some of the best work of his career here. There’s not a shot in the entire 166 minute running time that isn’t beautiful to look at. The visual effects are nigh on perfect for how complicated they must have been (though there are a few dodgy moments and the ‘smoothing’ effect making Pitt and Blanchett look younger still looks as bad as it did in X-men 3 when the technique was used to make Ian Mckellen and Patrick Stewart de-age). The music as well is at times touching but doesn’t really help add any dramatic weight to events or move perceptions on from this being an account of a relatively unexceptional life told in an almost unbearably sweet way.

Fincher then comes off best out of all this. There is no doubt he is one of the most talented film makers working in Hollywood today and after this technical marvel let down by a dull screenplay we all hope he returns to the edgy dark material he is perfectly suited for.

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