CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON: It's Compelling
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (romance drama)
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas and Tilda Swinton
Director: David Fincher
Time: 135 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2 (3.5 out of 4 stars)
PREAMBLE: THE case of Benjamin Button is curious indeed. He was born in New Orleans, USA, in 1918 with the ailments of an 80-year-old. Since then, he started aging in reverse, becoming middle-aged at 20, a strapping young hunk at 50 and ending as a newborn baby. Now, shouldn't this movie, based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, be categorised as science fiction?
Not in David Fincher's reckoning. Director Fincher, working on a screenplay by Eric Roth, fashions the movie as a biopic the likes of Forrest Gump, taking us on a 'tour' of the 20th Century and unfolding the stages of Benjamin Button's life in intriguing episodes.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie, however, opens in the 21st Century - in New Orleans, circa August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina is heading towards the Louisiana city. Here, we see 80-year-old Daisy (Cate Blanchett) on her hospital bed, asking her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to read from the diary of a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt).
As Caroline pores through the diary, she finds her mother's name mentioned. Daisy meets Benjamin when she visits her grandmother at the old folk's home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), Benjamin's foster mother. Young Daisy befriends Benjamin, who looks like a 70-year-old then. She joins him in childish pranks, and then they go their separate ways. When they next meet after World War Two, Daisy finds Benjamin in the prime of his life - and romance blossoms between the two who are eager to make the most of their lives after experiencing the ravages of war and fate. Also, living in an old folk's home, Death is no stranger to Benjamin.
THE REVIEW: Like Forrest Gump, which was also scripted by Roth, Benjamin's life is also like a box of chocolates - colorful and unpredictable. It comes with many segments marked by historical milestones. In the 1930s, he meets a solicitous stranger (Jason Flemyng as Thomas Button), as well as an African pygmy (Rampai Mohadi) and a tugboat captain named Mike (Jared Harris). Further adventures take him to Murmansk in Russia where he has an affair with a sophisticated married woman (Tilda Swinton) and learns what it is like to be loved and desired.
The historical milestones include Benjamin's stint with the US Navy during World War Two, providing action and suspense with a nocturnal U-Boat battle. However, the movie is at its most delightful when it shows Benjamin and Daisy rekindling their love. Here, the lovers look different from before. They are 'hotter' and more vibrant. Unlike in the earlier sequences (in the first half of the movie) where Pitt's face is 'digitally implanted' on an aged body, the romance sequences were shot on film, enhancing the movie's emotional depth and impact. Fincher, after years of assaulting our senses with violent films like Fight Club, Seven and Zodiac, has found a style of completely different tones, aiming for our heart and mind now.
I can go on about the acting, the writing, directing, editing and technical aspects of the movie but the fact that The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards speaks volumes for itself. Although we do not expect it to make a big sweep a'la Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, it should win at least four or five Oscars.
THE LOWDOWN: Catch Benjamin Button and get infected by the Oscar fever.