November 24, 2008

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (11/24/08)

Lettergrade: B

The main thing that surprised me about The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, a very good movie, is how many parallels the film has to 1994's Forrest Gump. Eric Roth was responsible for writing the screenplays for both, so perhaps he gets some of the blame. Button isn't lathered with cloying nostalgia and truisms that way that Gump was, but the structure of both movies is very similar. Each film features an unusual man who lives through remarkable segments the 20th century as a benign observer. Button starts a bit earlier than Gump did with the added Big Fishy twist that Button himself was born as a geriatric baby who gradually appears "younger" as his life progresses.

The movie was directed by David Fincher, best known for Se7en and Fight Club, who again hired Brad Pitt as his leading man. In 1995, I remember that my friend and I both begrudingly admitted to each-other that we find Pitt to be an excellent actor, having recently seen both Se7en and 12 Monkeys. He's very good in this movie as well, although the performance is a little on the blank side, more in line with what he did in Meet Joe Black.

The chick-of-the-flick is Cate Blanchette, who rarely gets to play leading ladies with sex-appeal, it seems. In another similarity to Gump, theirs is a relationship which starts in their childhoods and has a long, winding path to becoming realized. In early scenes, he's an old man and she's a little girl (think Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones) while in the later scenes, he's a young man with a much older woman (think Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and then Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore).

I don't have many other thoughts regarding this movie, frankly. I suspect it's on track to pick up a number of Academy Awards this year, and has a good shot at winning Best Picture. I'm okay with that, but I must also admit that it's one of those movies that I can acknowledge is very good while simultaneously not having a lot of excitement for it.

I have some ambivalence over how Hurricane Katrina is used in the movie, for example. Oh, and I must admit that the computer generated head of the elderly Brad Pitt super-imposed onto Verne Troyer's body (or whoever the fuck that was) during the early scenes was pretty creepy. Other than that, I maybe feel that the movie could have used a little more juice from Button himself. As I said, he goes through life observing a lot, but doing very little. The story-line with his father who abandoned him is compelling, but ultimately uncomplicated. After he dies, Pitt's character happily inherits the wealth from his dad's factory (Button's Buttons) - allowing him, like Gump, the freedom to pretty much do as he pleases - but he does not lose sight of the fact that the African American couple who raised him are his actual parents. Apparently, he does take his father's name at some point too, but I'm only assuming that from the movie's title. It seems out of character for him to do so, but who am I to argue?

Minor gripes and bitchings aside, though, it is a fine movie with plenty of high points. I can't say it's the best movie I've seen lately, but it's certainly worth seeing sooner or later when you have three hours to kill.

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