Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking, 160 minutes
“Benjamin Button” is an overlong but fascinating and intriguingly sad epic
“” is a curiously interesting movie. A fascinating, intriguing and epic portrait of a strange man who ages backward, it’s both ponderous and engaging. It’s overlong yet at the same time you won’t be able to look away. Adapted from a 1920’s F. Scott Fitzgerald story, “Benjamin Button” is well-written and superbly acted and directed. One of the most anticipated films of 2008, expect it to heavily play into awards consideration this year.
As Hurricane Katrina comes raging into New Orleans, Caroline (Julia Ormond) is sitting with her mother Daisy (Cate Blanchett in heavy makeup) on her hospital deathbed. Caroline finds her mother’s diary and Daisy begins telling the story of her relationship with Benjamin Button.
Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born in New Orleans in 1918 with the physical appearance and limitations of an 80-year old man. His mother dies in childbirth and his father Thomas () leaves him on the doorstep of a nursing home. He’s cared for and raised by Queenie () and the others in the nursing home.
During this time, meets the granddaughter of one of the residents, Daisy (played by Blanchett as an adult) and the two immediately form a bond and fall in love over the years. Both Benjamin and Daisy lead vastly different lives, with Benjamin taking a job on a tugboat, sees action in the Second World War and has an affair with an older woman (Tilda Swinton) while Daisy becomes a successful ballerina in the big city. Though they’re soul mates, they find the challenges of forging a relationship and having a family as Benjamin grows younger and younger each day.
“Benjamin Button” is a superb, well-done film hampered only by a leisurely pace that could lose some, especially in its slower mid-section. It has some haunting, sad moments that will stay with you long after the lights come up, and that’s a testament to both its skilled cast and director in creating some of the most fascinatingly memorable moments in cinema this year. “Button” is filled with some striking visuals and handsome photography as it tells its epic story.
David Fincher (“Zodiac,” “Panic Room”) is the right director for the material. The film could easily succumb to gimmicks and special effects, but those are seemingly downplayed and used minimally to complement the story. Written by Eric Roth (“The Insider”), the script is one of the film’s few flaws as it takes too much time to tell Benjamin’s story, especially in its early chapters, then seems to skim the later sections. The script also spends far too much time detailing Benjamin’s work on the tugboat in the middle of the film, as it introduces us to too many characters that have little impact on the story.
Most that interested in “Benjamin Button” will want to know of the performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Pitt delivers a solid, skilled performance as Button, under heavy makeup for 2/3 of the film. He’s an odd but sympathetic character, especially in the early parts of the film; interestingly enough, it’s not a wholly revealing performance as Pitt plays it exactly as written. The best performance in the film actually comes from Blanchett, who is the heart of the film and essentially carries it in the last act. She gives a moving and haunting performance of someone who’s getting older as her soul mate ages backward. It’s a real mystery and curiosity that Blanchett was overlooked in the recent Golden Globe nominations as hers is one of the finest performances of the year. Her best scene: watch her face tear apart as she sees a much younger Benjamin enter the room after years apart.
Other memorable impressions in the large cast come from the exquisite, intelligent Swinton, as one of Benjamin’s first loves, and especially from the vibrant Henson as Button’s adopted and loving mother. Even more so, there are many poignant images and scenes, most of which involve Blanchett and Pitt. The film’s production is handsome and is beautifully shot, much of which was filmed on location in post-Katrina New Orleans.
“Benjamin Button” is particularly sad in its final chapters, as we see Benjamin regressing backward to a young boy (but the film never provides a full explanation of his condition). The movie’s leisurely, meandering pace makes it feel even longer, and while the film is indeed overlong, it will stay with you long after you leave the theatre, and for that reason, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of the best of 2008.