Sunday 8 February 2009

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Year: 2008
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Eric Roth, Robin Swicord
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett

To say I was disappointed by this movie would be a bit of an understatement. Technical prowess aside, I haven't been so detached from a movie in such a long time. Superlatives have been thrown about the film and the Oscars have been extremely kind to the movie (13 nominations) but I found myself asking: "is this it?" The rushed ending, the dubious storytelling, the plodding pace, the overall coldness of the I the only one who felt these things?

Maybe I expected too much. I am a big David Fincher fan and Fight Club is one of my all time favorite movies. I could not wait to see what he would do with the material. Based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald, Fincher, Roth and Swicord nick the the gimmick of the story (a man aging backwards) and put a melodramatic spin on the tale turning it into the closest thing to a Rom-com Fincher will probably ever put out.

I don't want to go into the similarities of this film and Forrest Grump because it's very obvious to those who have seen more than the odd casual movie. In fact talking about the comparison to me is a waste of space because so many people have spotted it already. I will say this though...Gump's story is more efficient and more entertaining while less indulgent.

Once I got past the brilliant effects that the filmmakers have placed within the movie, BB left me cold. One of the main reasons is Brad Pitt portrayal of Button himself. Benjamin appears to us as an empty vessel. When an old man, he doesn't display the childlike wonder he should have, when he gets younger Pitt doesn't infuse the young with sage like wisdom. Pitt stays it straight all the way though. I love Pitt in many movies even though many people I know don't. He's embodied roles so much that to me he IS Tyler Durden, he IS Jeffrey Goines and he IS Rusty Ryan. Here however Pitt is too plain, too flat and just generally not that compelling to watch.

Because of this the main relationship suffers as Blancett plays the love interest Daisy with a great amount of energy. But while Blancett plays the role well, the character itself isn't a pleasant one, in fact the entire relationship the film is based on appears to me as awkward and cumbersome due to the fact that the two characters don't really gel. In fact the time where the two spend the most with each other is shown to us as a montage and for the most part their lingering looks before and after said montage just don't do it for me. This is because Fincher would rather pad the film out with secondary characters who are only around to ram home the films moral message: We as humans are lucky to be alive and we should live life to it's fullest. Not a bad message, however after three hours of constantly remind us ad get tired of it.

The storytelling just isn't Fincher's best. As a director not known for his short films Fincher goes overboard with this tale. Emotional moments are drowned out by scenes that could easily have been edited out, and we spend far too much time going back to our storytellers in 2005 than we need to. To add to this the film makes mistakes that a you wouldn't expect it to make. If a character is narrating a story and we're hearing it from their perspective, why do we hear this person narrate things that he would have no chance of seeing, hearing or knowing? One of the pivotal plot points relies on Benjamin telling of something he'd have no idea of. We get the idea, but it's not good storytelling. As for the film climax...I can't even remember it if I told you. I do remember it comes quickly (quicker than the rest of the film) and left me's that it?

But it's not all bad. Like I stated there lies some gentile moments that bring a smile to my face and some of the films insights on our own mortality are interesting enough. The film is technically superb and beautifully shot (it is Finicher ever all) and the score is wonderful. But for me it's to no avail. if Fincher streamlined the story and placed more focus on the relationship and given that more warmth I could see myself watching this movie again. However due to the reasons I've placed above, I can't see myself buying the DVD and growing old with it.