Screenwriters: Eric Roth, Robin Swicord
Starring:Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Jason Flemyng, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond
Running Time: 166 mins
Throughout his career Brad Pitt has strived to show that he's more than just a pretty face, and in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button he unveils a whole gallery of them. As the titular hero who ages backwards, he starts out looking like Mickey Rooney and ends up a cherub with all the angelic wisdom that suggests. It's a delicately shaded performance from the star and for director David Fincher (venturing into Michel Gondry territory) it's simply a stunning feat of filmmaking. Not only does it look great, but beneath the surface there is plenty of heart and soul as well.
The premise, taken from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, may sound hard to swallow, but Fincher sets the tone early on. He opens with the whimsical tale of a grief-stricken man (Elias Koteas) who builds a backwards clock in hopes that his dead son will return from war. It is 1918 and the visuals are pure sepia-toned nostalgia; Cate Blanchett is an old woman, Daisy, telling the story from her deathbed. She then urges daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read aloud from the diary of Benjamin Button, an old flame who was born on the day the war ended.
By this point Fincher has done everything to settle us in but light a log fire and pour some hot chocolate, and the fairytale continues with the birth and abandonment of the newborn Button. He's taken in at an old folks' home which seems the best place for this child, apparently suffering from premature aging. Initially, newcomer Taraji P. Henson plays his surrogate mother Queenie like a throwback to Hattie McDaniel's 'Mammy' in Gone With The Wind, all sweetness and sass. But as the baby turns into a little old man (bound to a wheelchair), her role becomes more defined. She teaches Benjamin to accept being different and the responsibilities that entails.
Life lessons come thick and fast but Fincher isn't shy of playing the situation for laughs either. A scene where Queenie takes Button to be 'healed' by a preacher is classic, but Pitt deserves much of the credit for managing to play this seemingly old man with the beguiling innocence of a toddler. It could have been funny for all the wrong reasons but, even through mounds of latex, he gets it pitch perfect. The slow-burning love affair between Button and Daisy is just as skilfully handled taking into account the ostensible age difference when they first meet; Button, a senior citizen, and Daisy, just seven years old (played by Dakota's little sister Elle Fanning).
Over the years platonic love blossoms into something more. Blanchett is, as usual, striking and at times when the story seems to coast on self-indulgence, she brings the necessary shot of adrenaline. Eventually, Button and Daisy 'meet in the middle', each in their forties, and that's when the film also graduates from epic fantasy to an almost profound drama.
If the film falls short of greatness, it's because Button remains too enigmatic. Its emotional power comes from the inevitability of the couple parting - she will grow old and he will get younger - but this is really about coming to terms with mortality. Perhaps uncharacteristic of Fincher (the man behind Se7en and Fight Club), he doesn't wallow in defeatism, instead boldly celebrating the bittersweet nature of life. You could say, he's mellowed out in his middle age.
> What do you think of the movie? Share your views