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Friday
Dec262008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

There are plenty of movies to see this holiday season, that's for sure. But out of all of them, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is probably the most anticipated, and for good reason. It's directed by David Fincher, a man who has brought us excellent films like Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club, and the brilliant Se7en, it stars the always terrific Brad Pitt, and the trailer looks like the makings of an Oscar worthy film. Well, I'm saddened to say I don't think it quite reaches that level. It's still a very good film, but it fails to recognize its potential and falls just short of greatness.

Benjamin Button's (Brad Pitt) curious case is this: he was born an old man and instead of aging older, he is growing younger. He is born with poor eyesight, poor hearing, and a weakness that prevents him from moving freely. But as the years pass, he gets stronger and everything begins to improve. The unavoidable notion he must face is that he will one day become a baby and die.

That story, which is based on the 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is ripe for the big screen treatment. Death is an inevitability and has been explored through countless other films, but never backwards. Despite some blunders along the way, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button does offer some enlightening insight into life, love, and the inescapable death that will one day come knocking on our doors. The message is simple: life is fleeting and when opportunities arise, jump at them because you may never get that chance again. Sometimes we forget that and need to be reminded. This film does a terrific job of doing just that.

However, the film doesn't always take its own advice. Some dramatic opportunities where the film really could have driven a point home and helped the audience relate to Benjamin are overshadowed by attempts at humor. Although some are funny, most aren't and they play too prominent a role in what should be a very serious look at life. There were moments where I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to laugh or cry due to the film's somewhat inconsistent tone.

Another fundamental problem is this. Benjamin Button is an extraordinary man. He was born an elder and is aging in reverse to infancy. He's a natural wonder, but nobody ever seems to be in awe of him. Outside of the occasional "wow," I didn't feel like others' reactions were explored enough. For instance, at one point in the movie, Button's love interest, played by Cate Blanchett, is in the hospital and he goes to see her. Last time she saw him, he was wrinkly with gray hairs popping out of his scalp. In this scene, he is vibrant and youthful, looking better than ever before. Instead of relishing in the opportunity to explore this incredible phenomenon, she hardly looks at him and kicks him out of the room as quickly as possible. The sense of wonder I was feeling towards Benjamin's remarkable backwards life wasn't shared by the other characters and is the main downfall of the film.

Still, this is a very good picture. For starters, it's beautiful to look at. Every frame is filled with gorgeous visuals that will sweep you off your feet and immerse you into what's going on. At one point, I actually forgot I was in a movie and was about to applaud the performers in a show Benjamin was watching. Despite some stumbles along the way, I still managed to submerse myself in the story while falling in love with Benjamin and caring about his life, which is a tremendous feat, helped in no small way by Brad Pitt's terrific performance as the titular character.

One of the greatest assets to the film is by far the make-up and special effects. They were simply astounding. In particular, the old (or is it young?) Benjamin looked great. Pitt is a tall, handsome guy, but they made him look small and hunchbacked to great effect. I even tried to spot where he ended and the special effects began, but I never could. The two seamed together to create a flawless image of old man Button.

This film has a few problems, but this is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, some dramatic opportunities were missed and the natural wonderment most of us would be feeling wasn't properly portrayed through the other characters, but the direction is fantastic, the acting is superb, the special effects and make-up are top notch, and the message is important. Does it reach greatness? Not quite. But is it a film that must be seen? Absolutely. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may be a minor letdown, but it's still a great flick that will help you appreciate how precious life is and why we need to cherish every moment. In the end, it really is a beautiful movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button receives 4/5

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