David Fincher’s latest is an epic tale of the life of Benjamin Button and it is an amazing tale, fantastic production value, and a film that will only grow richer on subsequent viewings.
When Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born he doesn’t look quite right, and upon further inspection by a doctor, he shows all the signs of an elderly person, wrinkled skin, arthritis, cataracts, hearing loss, he was born and old man and given little to no chance of survival. But his adoptive mother, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), decides to take him in anyways and as the years pass Benjamin keeps hanging around and he slowly grows as an old man living as one among the elderly in the rest home Queenie helps run and manage. Benjamin learns a lot in this home, living with people reaching the end, while he is just discovering the world yet constrained to the view from the porch. But as Benjamin grows older, his body gains more strength and seems to be getting younger, and he also gains a friend of sorts in Daisy who is the granddaughter of one of the tenants at Benjamin’s home. Benjamin instantly held a connection with her and the two would cross paths throughout the rest of his life once he finally gets out and begins a life of his own.
Now this is a quick synopsis of about the first third of the film, which covers about the first 18 years of Benjamin’s life, and know this going in, because I think it will help, the film is really just a beautifully captured portrait of this extraordinary individual. There isn’t really a plot, a hook or a goal to the film, it is just the story of this man’s life who happens to age backwards and we experience the effects it has on him and his experiences with those people around him. The story is filled with vignettes almost, stories within the stories, and Benjamin is our story teller as we experience his life through his eyes. Be it the trivial, first time he has sex or drinks (same night), or the important the first time he ever felt loved by another woman. We get to experience Benjamin’s fondest moments as he shares them in the diary we experience the story through and his backwards (no pun intended) and interesting take on the world provides us with an extraordinary look at history.
The film is beautifully made by director David Fincher. One of the finest looking films of the year, Fincher and writer Eric Roth (screenwriter of Forest Gump, which this film will draw comparison to) create a well paced, if not a bit deliberate, movie that takes time to breath and let you soak in the story and revel in the beautiful imagery Fincher puts on screen. The movies near three hour runtime is barely felt outside a couple of minor slow spots, but once Daisy and Benjamin get re-connected in the third act, the film pulls you in and never lets go.
Fincher also does a fantastic job of telling these little stories within the story and giving us quick little windows into some of the side characters lives and back story. Once scene in particular stands out is a scene that shows how one little thing after another led to an eventual event, and if one of those things had been different that said event would have never happened, just a beautiful sequence. Fincher’s work here is on par with his best, Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, The Game, and he continues to show why he is one of the best directors in Hollywood.
The actors in this film are also quite fantastic all around. The film is completely focused around Brad Pitt’s Benjamin, but we will get to him in a second, as there are a number of supporting individuals that pop in and out throughout Mr. Button’s life. The real Mr. Button, Benjamin’s father, is played wonderfully by Jason Flemyng who strikes the perfect cord as a father looking for retribution for the mistakes he made letting Benjamin go in the first place, but without his fathers fears we wouldn’t have got to see Queenie who is one of the better characters in the film. Taraji P. Henson plays Queenie through all the years of her life and she layers the character with ease as she maintains her spark and sass underneath the added wisdom and knowledge with her age. Tilda Swinton shows up as a potential love interest for Benjamin and the chemistry and life the two breath into one another just pops through the screen and the inspiration they give one another is clear and shines through before it is all said and done. Jared Harris brings some life and comedy to the film as a tug boat captain that helps show Benjamin the world he is missing in more ways then one. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy for most of the film and her work, as usual, is marvelous. She nails that angst of a 20 something, the reflection of a middle aged woman, and the sadness and desperation of an elderly woman reliving her past one last time; her role spans decades and she shines at every age. Brad Pitt is fantastic as Benjamin Button, creating a terribly complex character that has to deal with death all around him as people get older and he grows younger. He is able to do more and more in life as he gains knowledge and wisdom, and while he takes advantage of the ability, he still understands his curse and knows no one else can or should have to share that burden. As Pitt’s Button grows through life and he handles the awkwardness of his lack of knowledge apposed to his assumed age very well and shows remarkable wisdom as he gets younger and younger. Pitt’s best accomplishment is selling the viewer that Benjamin always has his history inside him and while he might look amazing and young we still can feel this old seasoned man behind his eyes.
In the end, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a fantastic look at the life of a man born under extraordinary circumstances. The film makes you think about life and death and the life you are living and makes you hope you can live a life not wasted. The film urges you to live life to the fullest when you can because you might not always be able to, and Fincher’s beautiful tale is a great way to find some inspiration or confidence that you are or can do something with your life. It’s all together uplifting, yet sad, but it all adds up to one of the best films of the year, and one I can’t wait to see again. I highly recommend you get lost in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.