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Rated 2.98 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Living Backwards
by Betty Jo Tucker

Although I'm one of the many people who looked forward to seeing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I feel more than a little disappointed about this overly melodramatic film. Focusing on a man living his life backwards, it stars two of my favorite actors, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett -- but both have been much better in other movies this year. Sentimentality reigns supreme here, yet Pitt’s performance seems flat throughout as the title character. And Blanchett is almost incoherent in sequences where she appears as an elderly woman remembering days gone by. 

Still, the redeeming qualities of Benjamin Button cannot be dismissed. Its special effects, cinematography, and background score  are top-notch. Lush Louisiana sunsets, seamless de-aging of the curious Ben, and haunting music combine to give the fantasy a memorable visual and emotional appeal.

We first see Benjamin Button as a new-born baby, one who looks like a shriveled-up old man. His father (Jason Flemyng) can’t stand to look at the strange infant and leaves him on the steps of a home for senior citizens. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a kind care-giver at the residence, takes pity on the ugly foundling, becoming one of the most important people in Benjamin’s life. Other individuals enter the picture, notably two women, played by Oscar-winners Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) and Blanchett (The Aviator), who fall in love with Benjamin at different stages of his aging process. Benjamin’s adult adventures include his stint on a tug boat, which leads to a wartime skirmish, and odd meetings with the man who gave him up as a child. The most poignant sections of the movie involve what Benjamin must sacrifice because of his bizarre condition. But, believe it or not, Pitt’s simple-minded Benjamin takes everything in his stoical stride.

My reaction to the acting by Pitt and Blanchett in Benjamin Button  may be influenced by their wonderful work earlier this year in Burn After Reading and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, respectively. I believe their performances in these films deserve Best Supporting Oscar nominations. Granted, those roles required flamboyant portrayals which make their Benjamin Button characters seem pale by comparison. But I can’t help being more impressed with Pitt’s goofy gym guy and Blanchett’s take-no-prisoners villain than with their bland Button turns. 

Directed by David Fincher, Benjamin Button lacks the excitement of his other films, especially Fight Club and Se7en. With a running time of almost three hours, it’s very slow moving. Making matters worse, there are no surprises in this movie version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fanciful story, for we know how the tale will end. Whether living backwards or forwards, each person must die, so don’t expect Benjamin’s life story to make you feel cheerful. It’s definitely a downer. In fact, I get gloomy just thinking about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “PG-13” for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking.)

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