The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Movie Review)

Note: There's a lot that could be written about this movie. Due to my own feelings towards word counts and overall length in general (and yes, because I'm incredibly lazy [and tired]) this review is a lot shorter than it could have been.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The only curious thing about Benjamin Button is that he ages backwards. Remove that element, and the film rather easily becomes a derivative tale about a man who makes the most of his life. I've heard people liken this film to Forrest Gump, but I see it more as a counterpart to Big Fish from five years ago. The same style and atmosphere is in tact, right down to the whole event being a narration. It's just that instead of Tim Burton's occasional zany visual splendour, the audience gets choked with symbolism as if there were shreds of The Great Gatsby in my popcorn.

During the First World War, a blind clockmaker built a clock for a train station that ticks in the opposite direction in order to represent the common sentiment parents often feel when they outlive their children. Presumably, a child was conceived at the exact moment the clock was activated. Nine months later, a wrinkled and decrepit child was born to a horrified father who left it for dead on the doorstep of an old folk's home. Surprising everyone, the child grows younger and healthier as time marches forward.

Button's life is revealed through his personal diaries that his lifelong love, Daisy, kept after his death. On her own deathbed, Daisy gives her daughter, Caroline, the diaries to read aloud as her last request. The entire film is a collection of pivotal moments in Benjamin's life (as they occurred and as he recalled them further on down the road) relived.

Structurally, the film contains four acts, which gives it the pace of biography rather than fantasy. The film starts in the jazz age, patiently moves into the Second World War, and has a quick dalliance with The Beatles before tapering off into more modern times. Aside from that, there's not all that much else that needs to be said. In my view, summarizing the film succinctly serves to devalue it since the whole project has come together so well. A collection of vignettes to be sure, but it's a harmonious collection with each aspect playing a crucial role.

The supporting cast far outclasses the leads. The best scenes all involve Benjamin responding to the characters he meets on his travels. Jared Harris as tugboat captain Mike and Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott in particular are exceptional. The central relationship between Pitt and Blanchett does leave a bit to be desired, possibly because of the thick southern accents in their way. In all seriousness though, the entire childhood 'love of my life' romance doesn't quite click. The account is competently executed, just too synthetic and a bit sterile.

image
That's about as normal as this relationship gets.

Now F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story the screenplay is (incredibly loosely) based off of, but prudent viewers will likely connect this film to another piece of literature by him that has become a standard high school text due to its persistent and overt symbolism. Screenwriter Eric Roth gives more than a few nods to the jazz age classic The Great Gatsby by playing with the ideas of time and chaos theory in a way that might pique the common stagnant brain. A life changing car accident that was triggered and perhaps might have been averted by simple actions is even narrated just so the point wouldn't be lost. More than a few passing references and axioms about time and life are sprinkled evenly throughout the 160 minute run time, and even the behaviour of Hurricane Katrina as it nears New Orleans during the present day can all by analyzed for symbolism. An essayist could go on, but this is a film review. The simple fact is that there is a fair bit of meaning hiding in the crevices of Roth's screenplay.

As I mentioned earlier, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is more a fictional biography than a fantasy drama. For this reason, it's the type of film you have to be in the mood for watching. It's a bit of a commitment (especially when the ending begins to drag) but there's enough solid entertainment to satisfy most anyone. The key ingredient is the audience's willingness to accept the conditions of director David Fincher's world. A little enthusiasm can go a long way.

A great review, as usual, however I think it's a shame that you limit yourself to such a low word count. Just as this review gains some great momentum, it ends.

I also get the feeling from your reviews that you're a great movie lover, or are at least quite knowledgeable in the subject.

That was a really great review. You seem knowledgeable of the culture surrounding the movie. Very well done but, yes it was more an overview than any full length review. Which is great because I'm too lazy of a bastard to read a long review.

I got a kick out of Bill Simmons of ESPN's comment that this movie should've been called 'Benjamin Snooze Button'. Not because I've got any opinion one way or the other myself (except for the standard "the worse Brad Pitt looks, the better the film" rule-of-thumb (q.v. Fight Club), but because it was a nice rapier-thrust critique on Simmons' part.

Novajam:
A great review, as usual, however I think it's a shame that you limit yourself to such a low word count. Just as this review gains some great momentum, it ends.

Just like the movie!
/joke
I loved the movie, I'm definitely gonna buy it when it comes out.

nice review.

great movie, great review

*shakes hand*

Good review but IMO you come to a poor conclusion. You correctly point out that the film is like a fictional biography, or in other words a biopic. You even mention that the main characters feel synthetic and sterile or, if a may, quite dull. This makes it a by the numbers biopic centered on a hopelessly dull main character, so unlike the other better by the numbers biopics in recent memories which have such colorful subjects as Harvey Milk, Howard Hughes, or Ray Charles this movie is almost unbearably ...meh. Oh, and as you correctly point out it, although not so harshly, the film nearly drowns in overbearing symbolism and moments that try to hit you over the head with "Oh, look how profound I am" I've seen more subtlety from an elephant in polka dot skirt.

What truly surprises me in your review is how, unlike the professional critics, you weren't so taken by the absolute mastery of movie magic in this piece. The way they age the characters is going to change the way biopics are made in the future. It is a landmark in movie special effects and it makes you believe in magic. The acting, especially by the supporting cast and Tilda Swinton in particular is masterful. The score hits all the right notes at all the right times, and the world is beautifully shot. So the professional critics got all caught up in the mastery of the cinematic elements they forgot to notice the mediocre story that these elements were means to.

How you gave this well made, bad movie a vaguely positive review is beyond me.

P.S: I forgot to mention the at times methodically slow pacing and unnecessarily hefty length. You did, but that's because your review is better than mine.

Great review, but I disagree on the ending. I found that point to be the best bit; where everything falls in place in a tear-wrenching facade. I am also interested to hear that you are not likening this to Forrest Gump, unlike every other reviewer.

Other than that, great review, and keep up on the good work.

dcheppy:
How you gave this well made, bad movie a vaguely positive review is beyond me.

It's a middling movie no matter which way you slice it. Really, your opinion of it should be either vaguely positive or vaguely negative depending on how you feel walking into the theater (hence my final line regarding enthusiasm). It's not shamelessly terrible, nor is it resoundingly triumphant. It's just... "meh."

When it comes to perfectly succinct movie reviews, you basically nailed it: a "well made, bad movie" is exactly what it is.

Lord Krunk:
Other than that, great review, and keep up on the good work.

Thanks. I'm thinking I might change it up for my next review, either by doing the four hour premier of 24 Season 7, or a video game review (Resistance 2) since I haven't done one of those in a while.

Maet:
Thanks. I'm thinking I might change it up for my next review, either by doing the four hour premier of 24 Season 7, or a video game review (Resistance 2) since I haven't done one of those in a while.

I would be interested to hear you're opinion on Resistance 2; I haven't played the original, and the sequel confused the crap out of me.

Lord Krunk:
I would be interested to hear you're opinion on Resistance 2; I haven't played the original, and the sequel confused the crap out of me.

I have played and finished both. There's no reason to worry about the story until the third part of the series comes out (is it a spoiler to say that the game ends on the Mt. Everest of cliffhangers?) since I had absolutely no idea what was going on throughout the entire game. It's a shame because the story in Resistance:FoM was actually pretty good, and it apparently got sacrificed for massive firefights (so perhaps it's really a fair compromise after all).

Great review, mediocre movie. Not all that impressed by it. Pitt should do one last movie and retire, he has like 300 kids to take care of.

I loved that movie.

 

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