Movie review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Yesterday, we decided to celebrate New Years Eve by going to a movie, since granddaughter #2 remains obstinate in her refusal to make her debut. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seemed intriguing, as Allahpundit put it, in a Twilight Zone sense. The trailers and the synopses of the film give away the structure of the movie and of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story on which it’s based; the protagonist is born old and gets younger throughout his life. In that sense, there are no real spoilers, and some of the curiosity over the film focuses on the technical — which would be a mistake. Benjamin Button is an affecting, philosophical, and introspective journey into love, sacrifice, and change.

The film operates on three time frames.  The story gets told by the daughter of a dying woman reading through Benjamin’s diary in a New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Katrina approaches.  Benjamin’s story gets told in flashback, bookended by a strange clock designed by a blind man whose son was lost in World War I and runs backwards.  Benjamin’s life gets played against the backdrop of 20th century American history, but unlike Forrest Gump, Benjamin doesn’t affect history, nor does it seem to affect him.

Brad Pitt delivers one of his best performances in this film.  I had some question as to whether he could give this role the kind of subtlety it would need, but Pitt succeeds in portraying Benjamin at almost all of the ages in this film.  In fact, despite his unusual progression, Benjamin remains an emotional constant in the film, with his gentle spirit sustaining him and others through many tribulations.  In contrast, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) goes through many changes in the passage of time, from a callow youth to wife and mother, and finally challenged in a unique way in love and responsibility.  While Pitt does an excellent job in the movie, it is Blanchett’s that will resonate the most.

The supporting cast does fine work as well, especially Tilda Swinton, who gives a rare sympathetic role emotional depth, and Julia Ormond, whom I did not recognize as Daisy’s daughter in the 2005 time frame.  The technical aspects are done so well that they stop being the focus of the film.  The aging effects look entirely natural, not like the prosthetic work done twenty and even ten years ago.  When Pitt becomes a teenager, it’s rather startling how effective and natural it looks. Overall, the film has an elegiac tenor to it, a wistfulness that will stay with the audience long past the end credits.

Benjamin Button doesn’t have a rapid pace, and some of the situations may be too adult for younger audiences.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone younger than teens, and even they may not relate well enough to the film to stay interested.  Otherwise, it’s a film that everyone can enjoy.