As someone very wise said to me, "It's this year's Pearl Harbor." The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ended up trying very hard in many ways, but not in the ways that counted. Not only does the film lack passion between it's two leads, but passion of any kind (memories of Music and Lyrics come to mind). At the end of 160 minutes of film, I was left baffled by how David Fincher can come out out a film like Fight Club, and then do something like this. Hollywood King Brad Pitt gives no life to the character of Benjamin. He may be good looking, but that's far from what's needed to carry the weight of a nearly 3 hour film. It seemed as if because the premise of the story was already so interesting, Pitt felt he didn't even have to try and put more effort into the character. Well Brad, congrats, you took what could have been a very interesting story and made it dull. Sadly, Cate Blanchett (one my favs) is guilty of the same thing with Daisy. Being a dancer does not automatically make you an scintillating individual. The film may be a fantasy in many respects, but the characters are still supposed to be based in reality. They needed soul, buckets of it, if possible. They were given every opportunity to show heart, but at each turn, played it flat and predictable. There were moments when Pitt as Benjamin could have lashed out and lost his cool, or even showed a little bit of vulnerability, but instead he chose to play him as an even tempered, lifeless individual. I just couldn't care about these people, when they didn't seem to care enough themselves. If you want to give the film props for technical achievement, go right ahead, but you can find better emotional performances on Gossip Girl, and that's saying a lot.
During an interview with ET, Blanchett spoke of her early concern for getting involved with a movie whose themes could easily become relegated to cliché, but decided to move forward when she found out David Fincher would be directing. "Knowing that David Fincher was going to look at it, I mean, the man doesn't have a sentimental bone in his body. FIncher talking about love, Fincher talking about longing and yearning, hope and possibility, birth and death, then I think you're in for an interesting ride." That's certainly what you would hope and expect from the man who gave us Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, but Fincher fell prey to tech giddiness. He neglected focusing on the potential personality and verve of these characters. Why should I invest time in them? Just because they existed? That's just not enough. Blanchett went on to say, "What I really admire about what Fincher's done with the film, is that I think in lesser hands, people would have gone to town with the technology, and often people make films like this to experiment with technology. But he was in complete control. It's got a lot of heart". Wrong again Cate. And what's worse, the rest of the interview is spent with Pitt and Blanchett cooing about the incredible leaps in technology...
The simple sum-up of Benjamin's plot is that it's a man's life story in reverse (think Forrest Gump if he was born at the end and ended at the beginning). I'm sure that plenty of people will come out of Benjamin Button with a contrary opinion to mine. When all is said and done, it's still cool to see Brad Pitt get younger. You get a chance to see him return to his Thelma and Louise days, and damn, he was cute wasn't he... Although overlooked in the trailers, you're also treated to a much younger Cate Blanchett, who looks so much like a life-size porcelain doll, you're surprised she doesn't shatter at Benjamin's touch. There are a couple of cute montage scenes between Benjamin and Daisy, and some fun scenes of Benjamin globetrotting, that gave me hope the movie might start to move in a different direction, but no. They are beautiful people, going to beautiful places, and even that wasn't strong enough to hold my interest (it's far from Marie Antoinette). Taraji P. Henson gives a fairly memorable performance as Queenie, Benjamin's adopted mother, and ends up being one of the few to try and bring some soul to her part. The character does unfortunately fall more into stereotypical territory, thereby endearing typical reactions from audiences. But, she does have some verve. More than anyone else, Tilda Swinton leaves an impression. She plays a very important role in Benjamin's life, but unfortunately her role in the film is short lived. She actually had a personality, and I only wish it could have been developed more.
Since the film is almost 3 hours long, the assumption would be that everything you see of Benjamin's life is critical to understanding him as a character or furthering the plot, but in this case it's more an assemblage of dreamy, jumbled sequences leading nowhere. It's not the first time this has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Fincher, please go back to doing what you do best; getting inside the heads of real men and women. Long Hollywood epics about pretty people just isn't your thing.
Short and Sweet
For a film that supposedly addresses life's "big issues," it falls short in too many ways. I would have enjoyed seeing a youthful Brad Pitt had he put some heart into Benjamin. Blanchett uses her standard American Katharine Hepburn voice to bend Benjamin's ear, but it doesn't have the payoff that it did in The Aviator. "They look SO young!" you'll gasp, but is that enough to warrant a nomination? Technically, it accomplishes some new things, but that's also not enough to carry the film but Ultimately Benjamin Button is another over-hyped cog in the Hollywood machine, leaving me to revisit the trailer and wonder "what happened?" If you're a Fincher fan, be prepared that this film doesn't hold up against his previous ones, and is done in a completely different style than you're accustomed to. I wish it would have been better, I really do, but in this instance, the blockbuster just didn't deliver. The middle rating is really more for the technical wow factor than anything else.
"They said I was gonna die soon, but, maybe not..." - Benjamin Button
"Did I ever tell you I was hit by lightning seven times?" - Mr. Daws
Happy Chanukah Everyone!
Happy Chanukah Everyone!