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Rated 2.98 stars
by 399 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Less Could Have Been More
by Diana Saenger

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another of the year-end holiday hopefuls for Academy Award consideration, is loosely based on a 1921 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. It’s a fascinating production with a weighty, excellent cast including Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. However, the film runs too long, covering a period beginning in New Orleans at the end of World War I and finishing in the 21st century. This creates a sagging middle which -- along with some implausibility in the way it’s told -- made the movie seem only an okay one to me.

Pitt, who does a voiceover throughout the film as Benjamin Button, starts the movie by announcing, “I was born under unusual circumstances.” Next up comes a hospital scene where Daisy (Cate Blanchett), an elderly woman, is dying. She wants to finally reveal some truths about her life to her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond). Caroline reads each page of her mother’s journal as if she was never part of that life. The readings turn into actual flashbacks of Daisy’s existence.  What Daisy really desires Caroline to know involves who her father is. One would think a grown woman might have questioned this before her aging mother is about to die.

So, many years before Caroline was born, a baby was born to a couple who already had problems. The mother dies in childbirth, and the baby is so hideous looking it frightens his father (Jason Flemyng), who leaves it on the doorstep of a nursing home. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a worker there, accepts the baby unconditionally even after learning the foundling has a rare disease -- he’s old and will grow younger throughout his life. She raises and loves Benjamin as her own, and he learns to accept his diagnosis with peace and understanding by watching those in the home facing their own last days.

As Benjamin grows younger every day, he travels many roads, working on a fishing boat and has several major romances in his life. One is with Daisy, whom he meets in the prime of his life. Their love affair seems so contemporary it feels out of place in the movie. It’s the segments where both Pitt and Blanchett appear physically closest as they do today, but to me the relationship appears forced. Daisy comes and goes in Benjamin’s life, taking on a career as a dancer.

As a young man Benjamin also finds another love when he discovers a kindred spirit in Elizabeth Abbott (Tilda Swinton). She’s married to a diplomat but unfulfilled, and she and Benjamin begin an affair.

The concept of a person going through life backwards is interesting, of course. How Benjamin handles teaming up with someone for a short while until they grow physically and emotionally apart is certainly out of the ordinary. This situation can also be somewhat jarring to a viewer who gets into a particular relationship instead of concentrating on Benjamin’s story. Nothing in his life is permanent except his condition.

Pitt faced real challenges in playing every facet of his character. Academy Award-winning special make-up designer Greg Cannom (Babel, Watchman) created the prosthetics to enhance the aging and de-aging of Benjamin throughout the film. In addition to the outside appearance, Pitt also had to be convincing on the inside about Benjamin’s life being like no other.

“Many actors weigh a part based on what their character gets to do,” said director David Fincher (Fight Club). “Well, Benjamin doesn’t ‘do’ a lot, per se, but, man, he goes through an enormous amount. Brad was the perfect person. It’s the kind of role that would be passive in lesser hands.”

The production design, cinematography and lighting in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are exceptional. Screenwriter Eric Roth definitely takes Mark Twain’s famous quote -- “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.”-- to heart in this film. Roth (The Horse Whisperer, Forrest Gump), a brilliant screenwriter who sometimes brings viewers a luxurious meandering style through an epic film, does so again in  Benjamin Button.

Yet because of the length of the movie and the disjointed stories, it never held my interest. A good edit might have helped make the film transition better. In this instance, I think less of Benjamin Button could have been more.

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

Review also posted at .

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