When I first saw the trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I dismissed it immediately. It seemed hokey: a story about a man who would be born with the qualities of an older human and then regress (or perhaps I should say progress) through his life aging backwards – that is to say, getting younger? Complete novelty. I had no intentions of even seeing the movie until it’s DVD release. I happened to be out with a friend and we decided we had enough time to make one of the showings. I’m glad that I was wrong about this film – completely wrong. And I’m a better person for having seen it.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button stars Brad Pitt in the title role, but for me, this was a Brad Pitt unlike I had ever seen before. I myself had been guilty of dismissing Pitt as a shallow actor who imagined himself to be an “actor’s actor”. He took me by surprise in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and this film presented Pitt in a completely different way. While I still feel that Heath Ledger captured my attention by transforming himself more than any other actor so far this year, Brad Pitt made a last minute run at taking that crown.
It’s difficult to describe the plot without taking away from the enjoyment of actually seeing the film (and so I won’t do that.) The best way to describe the film will also be one of the films biggest criticisms: “It’s kinda like Forrest Gump”. I agree that it brings about some of the tender moments that audiences felt while watching Gump. But for my money, Benjamin Button is much more substantive. I’ve always taken flack for my opinion that Forrest Gump was an incredibly overrated film. For me, the 1994 Gump release was memorable for the way that it carried the viewer across a journey spanning several decades, many of which coincide during key events in world history. But to me Gump always seemed more like an ‘everyman’s epic film’. The coincidental happenings set against icons that were typical of each era and decade made the film kinda campy. Benjamin Button is truly epic, and not just because it spans several decades as well. Where I felt that the character of “Forrest Gump” gets overshadowed by the events of the film, the events in Button act more like they should – a setting or a backdrop for the film and the focus is more more squarely on the characters. Actually there are many more coincidences that this film has with Forrest Gump: the hometown girl who steals his heart, the charming loving qualities of the lead actor, the ‘fish out of water’ sequences. Let’s just say that both films have their redeeming qualities. Yet for me, Button has the soulful substance that will insure that I’ll be watching this film a few times.
OK, I guess I’m obligated to give a bit more about the plot than just to say it was kinda like another film. As mentioned, a child is born in a state that makes his physical body incredibly old. He has all of the qualities of an older man. But strangely as time moves on, his body gets younger at the same rate that a normal human’s body will age. And the rest of the film reveals the developments of his life: who he meets, who he loves, who affects his life and the lives of those that he affects. This is a tender film and the best way to appreciate the progression of the story is by watching.
I didn’t realize that one of my favorite directors (David Fincher) directed this film. Like Danny Boyle, Fincher is truly an incredible director in that his greatness isn’t limited to a particular genre of film. This film can probably best be described as a family drama, yet it is every bit as engaging and incredible as Fincher’s other more action-driven dramas like Fight Club and Seven. Another criticism that the film is sure to suffer is for it’s length. At two hours and forty minutes, it is certainly longer than other films. But this isn’t your average “opening, plot, conflict, resolve, close”. This is an epic film and it needs to take it’s time – if for no other reason than to give the proper pacing to allowing the audience to appreciate the physical effects of Benjamin Button’s condition. And speaking of the condition…