THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” takes the spectator on a journey throughout the life of a man who ages backwards. Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born a decrepit old codger whose mother dies in childbirth and whose father abandons him on the front steps of a retirement home (how ironic Mr. Screenwriter!). As time goes by, he realizes that he’s been dealt the fantastical fate of growing young.
If this sounds like an enchanting tale, it’s no thanks to the screenwriter. Eric Roth’s script is the bastard child of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s much more amusing short story. It takes skill to turn such an original and enthralling premise into such a dull movie, but Roth succeeds admirably. His most apparent mistake is the structuring of the plot as a series of flashbacks retold from the deathbed of the protagonist’s primary love interest, Daisy (Cate Blanchett). However, this recycled Hollywood formula is only the first in a long line of cliches and abuses of the source material.
The entire movie is imbued with false depth, starting with the irrelevant historical framework. “Benjamin Button” begins at the end of World War I, then goes on to include a segment on World War II, only to wind up on the day Hurricane Katina hit New Orleans. How these major events relate to anything is beyond me.
Meanwhile, the whole cast of quirky characters has some sort of extraordinary life-affirming experience, but instead of amplifying their roles, it reduces them to one-line definitions you could fit on an index card - the man who was struck by lightning seven times, the now free bushman who once lived in a monkey house at the zoo, the woman who swam across the English channel, and so on and so forth - which brings me to the film’s titular character. There’s nothing curious about Benjamin Button other than his strange condition. He’s born, he learns how to walk, he falls in love, he travels the world, he dies. In fact, the protagonist accomplishes very little for a movie that seems to be pushing the whole “carpe diem” message. His relationship with Daisy ultimately runs its course, and he spends his youth (the third and final chapter of his life) idling around on the inheritance his father left him. Am I supposed to feel inspired by the meaningless wanderings he pays for with Daddy’s money?
Of its whopping thirteen Academy Award nominations, “Benjamin Button” only even merits consideration for “best makeup” and “best visual effects.” From a technical standpoint, it’s pretty impressive. Still, there’s absolutely no reason to sit through its entire two hours and forty-five minutes other than for the sake of watching Brad Pitt progressively get more and more good-looking.
Perhaps what makes the film such a giant letdown is that it’s David Fincher’s follow-up to his terrific police procedural “Zodiac” (2007), not to mention that it stars some of the best working actors. Overall, it’s a scandalous waste of talent and good ideas, and possibly 2008’s biggest disappointment.