FINCHERFEST: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

30 09 2010

As part of a deal with Paramount and Warner Bros. to make “Zodiac,” David Fincher took on the $150 million production of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  The result was his first nomination for Best Director and the most Oscar-nominated movie of the decade.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a masterpiece.

YES, I used the dreaded m-word.  Do I regret it?

Absolutely not.  I stand by assertion 100%, and I will argue my side until you see it.  Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is the closet thing I think we will ever get to a 20th century epic.  It’s a sweeping story of love, time, and life, not to mention the single most beautiful movie I have ever seen.  Aside from the typical splendor of a period piece, Fincher’s film has the greatest visual effects I have ever seen.

When I first saw “Benjamin Button,” I was under the impression that the younger (as in newly-born) Benjamins would only be voiced by Brad Pitt, not acted by him.  Yet after doing some research, I found out that aside from the last five minutes of the movie, Benjamin Button’s face was always animated by Pitt.  It’s completely possible to not notice that it actually is him because the effects are so subtly incorporated, and doing such is such an incredible achievement in film history.

I’ll address two common criticisms of the movie, the first being its similarities to “Forrest Gump.”  These concerns might be valid had the two not shared the same writer, Eric Roth.  I see no problem with an author exploring similar issues, especially when he delves deeper into more profound revelations.  “Benjamin Button” gets to the heart of what it means to be alive in the grandest of fashions.

And then there are those who claim that the movie’s 166 minute runtime is absolutely unbearable.  To those poor, impatient souls, I say that our journey is Benjamin’s journey.  We don’t just watch time go by; we feel it with him.  Glancing through an inverted lens gives us a fascinating look at the passage of time and its effect on one man fated – or perhaps doomed – to live it that way.  Just because I say this is a masterpiece doesn’t mean that I think it is perfect.  I don’t think any film can be entirely perfect, but when a movie is truly great, it has many beautiful, fleeting moments of perfection.  Some claim that the movie drags, and I’ll agree that certain scenes could have used a little more time in the editing room.  However, the pacing is not slow.  It is deliberate, and only at this wistful speed can we truly appreciate Benjamin’s world.

Everything about this movie got so much attention, but I’d like to draw attention to one element that got completely and unjustly overlooked: Cate Blanchett’s performance.  She received absolutely no awards or nominations for her performance as Daisy Fuller, Benjamin’s love interest, which is a shame because this is by far her most emotionally compelling and sensitive performance ever.  What I found particularly remarkable about her in “Benjamin Button” was her ability to turn small moments into things that can stick with us.  When I think of her in this movie, I keep coming back to a small scene where Daisy looks plaintively at a young girl with all of her physicality intact and suddenly just finds herself overcome with despair.  It’s as much her story as it is Benjamin’s, and Blanchett wins our hearts just as quickly as Pitt does.

It’s a marvel that Fincher can transition so seamlessly from his violent thrillers and dramas to this romantic vision of the 1900s.  In my mind, it’s his best and most thoughtful work, displaying more of his top-notch precision than ever (albeit in a totally different form).  There are very few movies that have the power to stun us into silence, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of them.  It has the power to make us feel light as a feather and make us fly in a gentle wind, full of emotion and with a new appreciation for life.

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3 responses

3 10 2010
Brian

Well said. Big fan of “Benjamin” and while I didn’t quite bust out the M word, I’ve had to go to bat for it on numerous occasions. Beautiful film.

4 10 2010
Marshall

I’m surprised it has so many haters out there. The worst was Roger Ebert who dismissed it just because he couldn’t “buy the concept.”

5 09 2012
alleyandthemovies

That’s pretty sad actually: he can’t buy the concept because it’s not rooted in reality? This film is my favorite of Fincher’s, of which I have to continually defend as one the best movies of all time. Extremely glad to see it’s not only me. Great review.

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