Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 

Review by Matthew Starr

I have always been a big fan of David Fincher’s work. In fact, he is one of the two directors responsibly for my interest in film, the other being Tim Burton. I have seen every one of his films in theatres (except for Fight Club, and I have no idea why I missed that one). Se7en, Fight Club and The Game I consider to be exceptional, cutting edge films. Even with his stellar resume, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is all-around his greatest achievement thus far. This is a film that will put him on the map for good.

As most people who have any interest in movies already know, the story is about a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) who is born with the qualities of an elderly man and begins to age backwards. This process is only physical and not mental. His mother dies after his birth and his father, seeing his deformed son, leaves the baby on a staircase with eighteen dollars cash. Little Benjamin is taken in by a woman named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who works at the old age home where he was left.

Benjamin is raised by Queenie in the old-age home, but has trouble making friends even though he looks similar to the people he is living with (though he is considerably smaller). The residents all still treat him like a kid, which in essence he is. Benjamin befriends a young girl named Daisy, who finds him odd but is willing to accept him as a friend nonetheless. The young Daisy is played by Elle Fanning, who looks like she has the makings of being as consistent an actress as her big sister Dakota. For most of the remaining segments of the film, Daisy is played by the always excellent Cate Blanchett.

I will not discuss the details of Benjamin’s life journey any further. The screenplay is by Eric Roth, who wrote Forrest Gump, a movie that shares a similar fabric to this one. Both stories feature lead characters who are unique and thus view the world through entirely different eyes than the average person. The two characters also have a knack for visiting different places and making new friends along the way.

I’ve read some comments from people saying that they feel the film’s trailer basically summarizes the entire story, and I can see how people would say that. If you think about it, we can summarize our own lives well before we have lived them. We will be born, we will go to school, make friends, go to college, get a job, find a woman and marry, have kids, watch them grow up and have grandkids, and then eventually pass on. That’s not life, though, right?

What makes lives unique are the small things, the details, the places we go and the people we meet. Sure, you can guess what’s going to ultimately become of Benjamin Button in this story, but what makes this story special is how he gets there and what he learns from those experiences. Ultimately, it’s about how he learns to deal with his difference and live life the best he can, much like Forrest Gump learned to deal with his.

This probably won’t do great business at the box office, but I feel this movie will be one to grow on the list of people’s favorites over time. It touches on subjects that people like to ignore but eventually have to face, and does so in a highly creative fashion. The special effects are just outstanding. Fincher has stated that it took about a year to work on the various digital faces of Brad Pitt, using images from his role in Thelma and Louise and even some photos from high school. The memorable score by Alexander Desplat deserves all the accolades it’s going to get.

Above the technical achievements, great performances and inspired screenplay the kudos goes to Fincher. I have no doubt that he will be remembered as one of the all time great directors with this film at or near top of his body of work.

5 / 5 stars
 
 
 

By Mark Lengieza

Let me start off by saying I am a big fan of the David Fincher/Brad Pitt combo.  Se7en was outstanding, and Fight Club is on my personal “Top 10” list.  Needless to say, I was going to see this movie regardless of what it was about.  Those two films alone were enough to make that decision for me.

When I first saw the trailer, it was obviously very far removed from Fincher’s previous work, a much different concept for the dynamic duo to tackle.  However, I was not terribly worried, for two reasons:  first, I think that both are masters of their craft; and second, I thought the concept of the film was fascinating, namely, a man who is born old and ages backwards.  I had never heard of anything remotely like that.  It was instantly thought-provoking, and I had high hopes going in.

I had heard from certain sources that had seen the film prior to its release that the film turned out quite boring, and that there were better options out there.  I had also heard that the film was brilliant, and would cement Fincher’s legacy and be a serious Oscar contender for Best Picture.  I was very pleased, upon viewing the film, that it turned out to be very much the latter.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was genuinely captivating throughout every one of the 168 minutes that it was on screen.  Every shot was beautifully done.  The effects were so seamless and stunning.  It cannot be easy to portray a 7-year-old whou looks 85 on screen!  The special effects and makeup department deserve to be commended.

But even more praise should go to the cast of the film.  Each actor owned their character.  Each one playing a role in Benjamin’s life, keeping the story fresh, at times humorous and never boring, a rare feat in a film this long.  Brad Pitt, who I believe is one of the most underrated actors working today, proved to me once again how great he is.  There are too many characters to mention here, but I simply must mention the terrific job done by Taraji P. Henson in the role of Queenie, the mother who took Benjamin in on the night of his birth.  It was her role that made the film move me from the very beginning.

The story itself unfolds as a lesson in love and loss, from the very beginning.  It does a brilliant job of portraying its theme, that we will suffer losses throughout our lives, but that we must press on.  This film will captivate your mind, and you will be thinking about it long after you have left the theater.  I am still mesmerized.  As I sit here and write down my feelings toward the movie itself, I can’t help but think about the deeper meaning, the issues that the film brings up.

I strongly urge you to see this film.  It is definitely one of the five best I have seen this year.  I would certainly call it a must see.  I feel so much better off for having seen this film.  David Fincher tackles an unfamiliar genre with ease and completely knocks it out of the park.  If The Dark Knight does not win the Oscar for Best Picture (and I assume it will not), I would have no problem with seeing this film be recognized as this year’s Best Picture winner.  It was that good.

5 / 5 stars

 

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