Friday, December 18, 2009

Under 250: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Loosely based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a New Orleans native (Brad Pitt) that ages backward, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has all the ingredients for success, but falls victim to its own and Oscar aspirations. Button narrates his life story as it's posthumously read to true love Daisy (Cate Blanchett) on her deathbed, just hours before hurricane Katrina hits. With Pitt’s characteristic faux Southern narration and the anciently made-up, mumbling Blanchett who intermittently croaks out one final fantastical story, the narrative feels instantly trite; the impending catastrophe just a cheap melodramatic gimmick. Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson is the only strong point in the film at this point, her role as Benjamin’s adopted mother heartbreaking.

Fincher, whose directing style is consistently cold (effective in the right setting), doesn’t do enough with the backgrounds, a missed opportunity for a story set in one of America’s oldest and most historically lush cities. It feels cold all around, especially as both Pitt and Blanchett are the type of actor to play their roles with a gusto that feels like an actor playing a part, and not an actor sinking into a character. That’s not always a bad thing (ie. Inglorious Basterds or Elizabeth), but when their forces combine with the addition of Fincher, it’s hard to stay invested.

The film does find its heart once Daisy (who ages normally) and Benjamin meet in the middle. What was once clich├ęd begins to feel real and magical, especially at the end as Daisy nurses the infant Button at the end of his life, or as the waters of the Katrina engulf New Orleans. Sadly, the last half is not enough to save the film from itself, but does make it worth a viewing.

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