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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Life Less Ordinary, June 15, 2009
This review is from: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Single-Disc Edition) (DVD)
This is, while a technically brilliant piece of filmmaking that fully exploits all the wizardry of CGI and makeup of which the filmmaker's art is now capable, strangely hollow at the center. One begins the movie expecting some profound truths about human existence to be explored, but it ends not with a big life-affirming bang, but more of a whimper, quite literally. Benjamin says though his diary at one point: "Life is defined by opportunities--even the ones we miss." And that could be a sum-up of this film project as a whole, as well as the life of the bizarre hero at its center. One gets the sense of promise grasped for here but not quite realized as the technical and stylistic gymnastics of this movie overwhelm the fragile love story that should be its beating heart.

The film opens with Mr. Gateau (Cake) constructing a magical clock that runs backwards and mounting it in a train station in New Orleans in honor of his son, dead in the Great War. No mention is made again of Mr. Gateau or whether his clock was successful in rewinding time to bring dead boys back to life. It does have a curious effect on the life of one boy, though, as Benjamin enters the world essentially running backwards. As other reviewers have pointed out, it's quizzical that the clock has this metaphysical effect on only Benjamin among all the other children born afterwards, but then, fantasy is not required to operate by the rules of logic. Perhaps Benjamin, with a Gullah mother was particularly susceptible to magic, and how serendipitous that old-man baby Benjamin's grieving father abandoned him, along with $18 on the steps of an old-folks home, rather than say, a brothel . . .this being New Orleans, after all. What are the chances, outside the realm of fantastical fiction, furthermore that Benjamin's progenitor be named Mr. Button, and that he own a button factory? Otherwise we wouldn't have such nifty alliteration.

Countless comparisons have been made to "Forrest Gump", with which this narrative does share structural similarities. However, that didn't occur to me while I was watching and found instead resonance with one of Pitt's earlier characters, Tristan Ludlow from "Legends of the Fall"--like Benjamin, Tristan is a soul set apart, blessed or cursed with mystical powers he does not fully understand; uncomfortable among other people and destined to lose the true love of his life due to his own inability to live a normal life. Scenes of Benjamin travelling to foreign shores and sailing a boat underscored this impression. (The presence of Julia Ormond, here playing the adult daughter of the aged Daisy was just a bonus, since she and Pitt have no scenes together.) The setting of New Orleans during Benjamin's childhood in the early decades of the last century also reminded me of Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby".

This film is technically dazzling, but I think it was justly deprived of the top acting awards. With so much else to be distracted by, the acting had a job of it to even be noticed, really. Cate Blanchett is luminous, as usual. I had my doubts a 38-year-old mother of three could pull off a 23-year-old ballerina, but La Blanchett can do anything. The greatest curiosity I had, to be honest, was in how they were going to make Brad Pitt look 18 again. Brad has taken pretty good care of his body over the years, but the strain of being father to the United Tribe of Benetton is starting to show . . .at least when he's not on a movie set. When he's lit and coiffed for a film, he does not look anything like a 46-year-old father of six. He can easily pass for a decade younger . . .but I thought 18 would be pushing it. Well . . . did I say that the makeup department is amazing?? Looking at the scene of an 18-year-old Benjamin coming to visit the now-58-year-old Daisy--wow. It was like having a flashback to Mr. Pitt's debut in "Thelma & Louise", and it was a very unsettling feeling. "Unsettling" is the best descriptor for this movie. Parts of it were stunning to look at, but its tragic meditations on the ultimate inablity of love to bring any meaning to human life leaves you wrung out and uncertain whether you are better off having seen it than you were before.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 18, 2009 7:12:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 18, 2009 7:13:12 AM PDT
Lawyeraau says:
Your review is terrific, and I concur with everything you wrote. It really is a beautifully written, thoughtful review.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2009 8:46:54 AM PDT
Hikari says:
Thank you very much. I had avoided watching this film when it played in theatres, due to the length and because "metaphysical"-type pictures aren't my favorite . . .they can get cheesy very fast, and overreliant on CGI. I prefer narratives that are grounded in reality, I guess. The filmmakers are to be commended for tackling a very difficult subject and really pushing the envelope of the technical arts. An interesting choice from Brad Pitt, who has consistently made offbeat choices in his career, not content to stick with his pretty-boy leading man persona. I preferred his turn in "Babel" to this, but having seen "Benjamin", I can't imagine anyone else alive now tackling this Fitzgeraldian character.

Posted on Sep 17, 2009 7:36:14 AM PDT
Brian Baker says:
Terrific review, Hikari. One "yes" from me. I think, however, that I liked the flick more than you did. I guess because I'm older than you, and so I found a lot of the story taking place in eras through which I lived and still well remember, and so that resonated more with me.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2009 7:09:21 PM PDT
Hikari says:
I guess part of my coolness toward this movie was how overhyped it was at Oscar time. I usually find the more hyped a picture, the less deserving it really is. Maybe if this hadn't been trumpted to death, I might have found it more unexpectedly charming rather than forcedly whimsical. Mr. Pitt is capable, in the right parts, of displaying some acting range and subtlety; I didn't feel this was a role in which he did so, but I give him kudos for attempting to act at all amidst so much hobbling makeup and CGI. Fitzgerald's stories were mostly the triumph of style over substance and I found this movie treatment to hold true to that aesthetic, but it certainly was an interesting attempt. I actually liked some of the smaller parts more than the leads--Taraji P. Henson; Tilda Swinton, and the guy playing the Captain were all very good.

Seen "Babel"? I'd be interested for your take on that one. I reviewed that one on Netflix. "Doubt", also, which for once was a heavily-hyped Oscar flick that actually deserved all the attention it got.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2009 7:36:48 PM PST
Schmicky says:
wonderful review. I completely agree with your assessment.

Posted on Nov 17, 2010 2:37:08 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 11, 2011 8:08:56 AM PST
Another interesting take on a film I'm rather ambivilant about. From a film making point of view, I like
most of the folks involved...Fincher and Brad worked it in SEVEN and I like Blanchett and
Brad in their first film together. She's a monster actress and I really dig Thelma and Louise.
Button doesn't draw me in emotionally. The special effects are slammin, but that does not a movie make. This one needs a revisit. Nice review!

Posted on Sep 8, 2011 8:33:50 AM PDT
They ripped pages out of Forrest Gump wholesale, loading up on black stereotypes, to physical disability, to the wild "bohemian" lifestyle of the female love interest, to putting a somewhat dimwitted guy into spectacular places. Brad Pitt was just creepy in this film. He only took the role to ride some killer vintage motorcycles. Cate Blanchett had nothing to work with here. Almost ANY actress could have pulled off her lines. All of it was contrived nonsense.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2011 7:16:14 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Oct 29, 2011 7:17:28 PM PDT]

Posted on Aug 16, 2012 11:55:23 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2012 11:58:22 AM PDT
A long winded, effectively engaging review of this effort. A film I was initially enamored to own (hype and my admiration
for the co-stars and "Babel") but an effort so ultimately unsettling that I didn't hesitate to unload it when I suffered a cash pinch.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 16, 2012 2:14:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2012 2:17:00 PM PDT
Hikari says:
Hi, Mark--
I was surprised to see your post pop up in my review archive. I agree that this movie was ultimately unsettling and made me feel squicky so once was enough for me. It did make me interested to read the Fitzgerald story. You actually rang in on this review nearly 2 years ago; what made you visit again, out of curiosity? I have to say I've never been called 'long winded' and 'effectively engaging' in the same sentence before. I disagree with your assessment that four short paragraphs with line breaks is particularly long-winded, given that the movie itself is nearly 3 hours long, but I thank you for the second half of that statement.

I love movies and I love writing and in combination, I can sometimes get carried away with my dual enthusiasms. I usually say exactly as much as I need to say and it takes however many words it takes. Pauline Kael didn't write sound bites either. You think this one is long? You should read my one for "Stage Beauty"! :)
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