Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Tilda Swinton, Jared Harris, Jason Flemyng

Oscar season continues, and this week I'm writing about a Best Picture contender that has 12 other nominations running alongside it.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button begins in a hospital in New Orleans, where a woman named Caroline (Julia Ormond) is visiting her mother Daisy (Cate Blanchett) as Hurricane Katrina blows outside. Daisy is on her deathbed and asks Caroline to read a diary to her, a diary that belongs to Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt).

And so the story of Benjamin begins in New Orleans after the end of World War I, the day he was born. His father Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) takes a look at his newborn son and sees an abnormal child, one covered in wrinkles and looking so fragile and horrifying. He abandons his son at the doorstep of a nursing home, run by a kind black woman named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Queenie is equally shocked by the child's appearance, but decides to give him a home amongst the old folk she looks after. She gives him the name Benjamin.

As time passes, Benjamin grows younger and younger, and looks less and less like the old people living in the nursing home. You see, Benjamin has a rare condition where he is born old and ages backwards. Despite his strange condition, Benjamin tries to lead a normal life under Queenie's care as well as the elderly folk he mingles with daily. He eventually leaves home and has his own little adventure, working with tugboat captain Mike Clark (Jared Harris), travelling to Russia and having a relationship with a married woman (Tilda Swinton), discovering the identity of his father and running into his childhood sweetheart Daisy, and how their love progresses through tragedy and pain.

I must say that this film is beautifully made, and it's astonishing to know that it was directed by David Fincher, a man who is well known for thrillers like Se7en, The Game and Panic Room. Fincher takes his time in telling his story, which is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and puts everything into place without overdoing it or misplacing his focus. Everything, from visual effects, makeup and score to pacing and cinematography is near perfect. Yes, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it does feel long, but unlike his last film Zodiac, it doesn't feel tiring at all to sit through this.

Brad Pitt gives a subdued performance as Benjamin. He paints Benjamin as a calm and quiet man, who meets many people along the way and watches them all go when their time comes, and the sadness he must experience with every loss. His only real happiness comes when he is with his true love Daisy, played very well by Cate Blanchett. With her southern accent, Blanchett reminded me of her character in Ron Howard's The Missing, except here she gets a wider range of emotions to play with. The other supporting cast members, even the smaller ones all make their presence felt throughout the movie.

In hindsight, this film is a lot like Forrest Gump, as it charts the story of one man narrating his life from beginning till end, telling his story of all the people he met, cared about, lost and the adventures and moments in between that mattered the most to him. The only difference is the story of Benjamin Button is a little more tragic, and it has an underlying message, that no matter which way you age, you can't escape the pain and loss that comes with life.

Pitt is up against some great competition for Best Actor come Oscar night, and I'm thinking it's still not his time yet despite his great performance here. But it would be a shame if this film didn't win some awards for such a splendid effort by its cast and crew. Recommended. (4/5)

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