Monday, February 02, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 Button Title

  • Released Internationally on 25/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/02/09

The storytelling skills of Scott Fitzgerald

Back in 1921, the celebrated American author F. Scott Fitzgerald (who penned The Great Gatsby), wrote the short story from which this film takes its name, which is a very brief and enjoyable read. The title character was born looking like a seventy year-old, and to the surprise and often embarrassment of all around him he slowly and surely grew younger, until his mind went blank as a tiny baby. The novella doesn’t take itself too seriously, and all that was used for this screenplay are the characters’ names and the concept of a man ageing backwards.

The wonderful writing of Eric Roth

Award-winning screenwriter Eric Roth, whose words have embellished films such as The Insider, Munich and Forrest Gump, fleshed out the story considerably, opening the film in New Orleans a few years ago, as hurricane Katrina was about to wreck havoc. On her deathbed, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is getting some quality time with her only daughter (Julia Ormond). As they pore through the pages of a diary written by a certain Benjamin Button, the facts about his extraordinary existence come to life. Roth has succeeded brilliantly in changing a whimsical anecdote of a story into a larger-than-life tale of love, loss and the sacrifices some must make in order to have a few moments of true happiness.

The universal appeal of Brad Pitt

Anchoring this fine movie is a career-best performance by Brad Pitt, the actor who most women want to meet, and most men want to be. His admirable career may be partly due to his looks, but is mainly due to a string of excellent performances and unconventional roles, and he remains an actor who is fascinating to watch at work. His complex performance here goes hand in hand with the cutting-edge special effects, as he progresses from a frail and bent (but clearly recognizable) man in his eighties to the mid-forties man we all see in the press, through to a clear-faced twenty-five year old, with physical and facial features altering accordingly. Often acting just with his face, as it was superimposed on somebody else’s body, he still gives Button a life of his own, and draws us into his tragic story as we follow him on his unique journey.

The amazing grace of Cate Blanchett

Twelve years after he was born, but still looking like a man well into his seventies, he meets a young girl named Daisy, and an unusual friendship is born. As the years go by and his physical transformation becomes apparent to her, he tries to win her affection, but she goes off touring the world with her dance troupe, and rejects his advances. His patience and determination are rewarded when she returns home in the early 1960s (when they’re both in their forties, and they both look it), and their friendship quickly blossoms into romance. This is undoubtedly the high-point of the film, as these two lovers in their prime share a few magical years of normality. Blanchett shines during her flashback scenes in the film, and also has the difficult task of re-living all her emotions as a dying woman in her eighties during the present-day scenes.

The magical vision of David Fincher

Weaving all the above together in a wonderful fairytale is the deft touch of director David Fincher. The acclaimed director of such gems as Fight Club, Se7en, and the recent Zodiac brings it all together seamlessly, and with the help of standout cinematography, art direction and music creates a film with a glorious vintage look and feel, without ever letting the details or special effects come in the way of the curious case in question. One particular sequence stands out as probably the most beautiful in all of the films I have seen from 2008, as Button takes Daisy sailing and they enjoy their small and deserved share of the good life. The scenes, combined with Alexandre Desplat’s music, and coming after such a great build-up, make for a masterful movie moment. It’s also to Fincher’s credit that such a long film rarely films dragging, and if anything gets better as it progresses.

In the end

What struck me most about this remarkable film is that it doesn’t try to hit you over the head with any big message. There’s no political ideal, no preachy philosophy, no complex twists or tricks. It’s just a great tale, told beautifully, and in my books is one of the best films to come out of 2008.





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