' Cinema Romantico: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I had a sensation watching "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" that was akin to the plight of the film's title character, wherein a man ages in reverse. Despite this strange happenstance his body advances in years just as any person's body would and as I watched this epic - almost three hours - fable unfold I felt my attention waning, my mind shutting down, the characters and situations becoming less and less immediate. You want to care but the movie doesn't hold you and so, naturally, you stop reacting.

It is, however, beautiful to look at the whole way through. It is the only time in my life I can recall staying for the end credits specifically to see the name of the production designer (Donald Graham Burt). Funny how in real life I seem to possess no inclination to visit the south but, oh, if it was the movie south how quickly I would hop a freight car and light out, so long as I could find a depression-era bar that was way more romantic than it had any right being where I could sip at mint juleps and listen to the band strike up some Dixieland jazz and meet a woman who turned tricks for a living that was still somehow a conversationalist of the most philosophical proportions.

But I suppose I should discuss the movie. Benjamin is abandoned at birth by his button-making daddy on the doorstep of a nursing home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who will come to be Benjamin's surrogate mother. The key moment of Benjamin's existence comes when he meets young Daisy (played as an adult by Cate Blanchett), a woman who will grow up to be Benjamin's love interest. Oh, and a....something else, too. What was she? That's it! A dancer! She's a dancer! Sort of. They show a few scenes where she dances, anyway. All this is framed by the standard Modern Day scenes in a New Orleans hospital where the dying Daisy has her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) read a diary aloud that serves as the narration while, all the while, Hurrican Katrina waits to descend outside. (Was it really necessary to add the presence of this awful real-life event? If it's supposed to symbolize something, well, I'll be damned if I can figure out what it was and if it was the screenwriter - that's you, Eric Roth! - trying to heighten the drama in these sequences he could have found a much less intrusive way to do it.)

Brad Pitt portrays Benjamin Button, with great assistance from computers, of course, every step of the way. The more I see Brad Pitt in movies the less I think he's really that great of an actor. The man's range is limited, people, I don't care how scrumptious the ladies think he is. In Benjamin's twilight years he begins to strangely resemble the "Meet Joe Black"-era Brad Pitt and all I could think was, "I know that Brad Pitt! Smiling innocently, trying to make it appear as if he's concealing emotion because it's part of his character when, in fact, you and he both know he isn't concealing anything because he can't portray those sorts of cinematic depths and now he's daring you to call him on it."

I call you out, Mr. Pitt! I call you out!

In fact, the techniques employed to make Brad Pitt look like Benjamin Button are the movie in capsule. They are impressive. The movie is impressive. That director David Fincher could helm this and make the look of it and the feel of it convincing is no small feat. The scope of the entire enterprise is impeccable but I think it's that very scope that causes the all-important story to get swallowed up and if the story fails then you wind up with something that's sure as heck luminous to look at but as hollow as the Tin Man before he gets his heart.

3 comments:

Rory Larry said...

AO Scott touches on some of the same points as you do and I concur with both of you that the film looks beautiful and yet leaves one unsatisfied. Scott however suggests that Pitt is always playing defensive and that on rare occasions when he does open up as an actor he proves he has what it takes, it just happens very rarely.

Rory Larry said...

http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/12/25/movies/25butt.html?scp=3&sq=curious%20case%20of%20benjamin%20button&st=cse

Nicholas Prigge said...

Yeah, I was being a little harsh to Brad. My Great Movies review coming later this week will, in fact, sing his praises. I like some of his work, I just don't think he's extremely versatile.

"Defensive" is a good word for what he does in "Benjamin Button". You sense something else there and you just want to shake him to get it out.