1000 Great Films
(c) 2009, William L. Sinclair

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher, 2008 (7*)
I'm always a fan of David Fincher's films, each one is different, each has an element of fantasy, yet is made to seem real. Fight Club had Ed Norton battling his insanity, with friends; The Game found Michael Douglas running from unseen enemies as a birthday present from brother Sean Penn. Only Zodiac attempted to be factual, and that was based on the theory of a journalist. Here Fincher films an F. Scott Fitzgerald fantasy story from 1921, thanks to an excellent screenplay by Eric Roth, which he wrote before his Oscar® Forrest Gump.

Benjamin Button is born on the day World War I ended, and his mother died in childbirth. His dad, taking a look at the infant, who was born old, leaves him on the steps of a nearby house for the elderly, and mama for Benjamin becomes an African-American who works in the house, played by Oscar®-nominee Taraji P. Henson. While growing but remaining old he meets a little girl that becomes his lifetime friend, later played by Cate Blanchett. Even as a short, old-looking child, the role is played by Brad Pitt in an amazing Oscar®-winning makeup job.

We eventually discover along with Benjamin that he's not growing older but younger and he adapts to feeling better daily by taking his first job on a tugboat. Much of the film is about the awkwardness of this peculiar fact; much of his pain comes from watching his friends age, obviously toward death.

Fincher makes both the river journeys of the tugboat, New Orleans, and later some shots of Lake Ponchetrain look like the old hand-tinted postcards, so the early parts of the film are steeped in Americana. There's an elderly resident at the home who's been stuck by lightning seven times; Fincher shows these strikes in the style of 20's silent films. The later parts use a plot device of having Julia Ormand read Benjamin's diary to an invalid in a hospital who knew him, so we get Benjamin's story in retrospect and from his own words. The three time eras perhaps keep the film from seeming to be from any one era, and the modern era in New Orleans seemed oddly out of place, giving the film a reference to a present world far removed from Benjamin's.

This is a gentle, if lengthy, fable, running about 2 hrs, 48 minutes. The length kills the pace a little, but fans of film fables such as Field of Dreams and Big Fish should enjoy this, as well as fans of David Fincher. The cast is excellent and also includes Tilda Swinton. The film received 13 Oscar® nominations, the most for 2008, but lost to Slumdog Millionaire in nearly every major category. Three Oscars® for art direction, visual effects, and makeup.

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