Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Brad Pitt ages backwards while the audience simply ages. This epic lifelong tale follows in the footsteps of Forrest Gump and Big Fish but has the curiosity of neither.

Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Eric Roth
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton
Released: 2008 / Genre: Drama/Fantasy / Country: USA / IMDB
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Reminding me of similar epic tales about significant yet fictional male lives, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is another lifelong retrospective in the vain of Forrest Gump and more recently Big Fish. Yet, unlike the films of Robert Zemeckis and Tim Burton respectively, David Fincher’s Benjamin Button is less a tall tale, more one of average height.

Average in that Benjamin Button is just another man in a sea of men, and average in quality as the film lacks the imagination that made Forrest Gump and Big Fish so memorable. What is supposed to make the film stand out is the fact Benjamin is born an old man and begins to age backwards. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking if you were to take that element away, what would distinguish the film from any other biographical journey.

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Indeed, Benjamin’s reversed body clock is more a happenstance that most people seem ignorant of than a focus of the story. It is more interesting, therefore, seeing an aged Brad Pitt in the role of Benjamin than to see how aging backwards influences one’s life. By the end of the film, when Benjamin has entered old age and therefore looks like a child, Fincher seems sick of his CGI Pitt and opts to simply cast a kid in the role. Could he not have cast an old man as Benjamin at the beginning? Maybe they ran out of budget or Pitt became weary of the film searching for a point and made a hasty escape.

But I’m being a little harsh (even though I did feel the film was far too long). Through a period of about eighty years Benjamin has a number of experiences, meeting a collection of colourful characters. What is interesting is the film’s take on the idea of face value. Benjamin’s good-natured, adopted mother treats him as the infant that he is despite his appearance being that of a weathered old man. That is unlike his real father who abandons the child just as soon as he is born. When the teenage Benjamin befriends a young girl almost his age, their relationship is mistakenly thought of as inappropriate because of Benjamin’s seventy-year-old looks. What is fascinating is how their relationship manages to grow over the years, developing into a long love affair that eventually sees the pair’s ages meet in the middle. For once in Benjamin’s life, only for a few years, he looks his actual age.

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But ultimately I didn’t feel Benjamin Button’s life was curious enough. Despite an excellent performance from the ever-dependable Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt failed to illuminate the screen (something Fincher must have noticed since he ditches the actor for the closing reels). This is more a curious case of false advertising. Perhaps the Case of Benjamin Button would have been a more apt title – at least then it wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    What a painful movie to watch. Maybe they could have salvaged a good movie out of this, had it been one hour shorter. I was bored to tears.

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Castor: It took me a long time to see this film and I’m not too sure why I bothered. It is, as you say, far too long, there just isn’t enough depth to keep it going. I found it very difficult to watch but it is great for those that have trouble sleeping.

  3. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Funny story with this one, my parents went to see it but half way through the cinema had a power cut. They had replacement tickets to watch it again another. Mum said she was pleased as it was such a long film!

    I agree that it is long but I liked the idea and I liked Pitt’s performace. There were many lovely moments but, I’m not in a rush to see it any time soon.

  4. Avatar
    amy Reply

    We’re definitely in different wavelengths here because I did love the film and I’ve watched it 4 times already.

    While Forest Gump is the story of an ordinary man that was special, and Big Fish is the story of an ordinary man that made things special, I see Button as a man that was a special but wanted to be ordinary. I can appreciate that and made it all the more hard-hitting for me.

    But then again, I love all these tragic love stories and that’s what Button ended up being for me.

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    Fitz Reply

    I liked the film. I never thought Benjamin was supposed to be curious about the world, ultimately that’s the problem with how we all live. We are so busy asking questions that the world moves right past us.

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Amy and Fitz: Very good points. I do think Benjamin wanted to experience a range of things during his life but was held back in part by his condition. But then I think the experiences he has could have been given to us with a little more imagination. Perhaps it wasn’t that the film was too long, more the fact it didn’t have enough meat on its bones to sustain it. So ultimately it dragged.

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    Custard Reply

    I have never ever got around to watching this film. And it seems that my instinct was spot on!! HAHA

    Great review Dan!

  8. Avatar
    amy Reply

    @Dan but his story wasn’t about how imaginative it was (probably just as a first impression), it was about him wanting to be normal and be able to just live. But I agree in that it was pretty crazy to turn the short into such a long film.

    However, I really didn’t care much for the short. I found Button to be completely obnoxious in it – I really think they only thing they have in common is that there’s a character that ages backwards xD

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    tommy k Reply

    I didn’t care for the film, although I did like the guy constantly getting struck by lightening, I thought the rest of it was dull and mawkish.

    But the thing that annoyed me the most is this (SPOILER):

    When Benjamin is born, he is an old man but HE IS THE SIZE OF A BABY. Therefore, at the end, I expected him to die as a baby THAT WAS THE SIZE OF A MAN. That seems logical.

    The only thing that got me to watch this film all the way through was the thought of seeing a porcelain skinned CG-enhanced Brad Pitt crawling around in a nappy and crying and crapping himself. Needless to say, seeing him shrink back down to a normal looking baby was a bit of a disappointment.

    Also, Why doesn’t he shrink all the way back to a single sperm? Perhaps the films makers’ were trying to address the ‘When does life really begin?’ abortion debate but I was frankly too bored to give it any thought.

    It’s one of those films that, when you really think about it, makes absolutely no sense at all.

    A shame really, as it’s a blot on the otherwise excellent post-Alien3 filmography of David Fincher.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Amy: I understand what you’re saying but perhaps that’s why I find the film to be a bit dull. It was all a bit mundane and it seemed to me that it was relying on the hook that the character miraculously ages backwards. I think more could have been done to explore this aspect but felt if you simply took it away it wouldn’t change things greatly.

    I think my argument about it being more imaginative is that we are dealing with a character who is a piece of fantasy (by definition of his miraculous backward aging) and within this fantastical world I felt the story could have been more creative. I understand your point about him trying to live an ordinary life but then that just leaves the reverse aging hook as the film’s major interest point. Everything else is just far too mundane.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Custard: I didn’t like it but it gets some surprisingly good reviews.

    @Tommy: One of the things that really hurt the film for me was its laziness in regards to the whole aging backwards thing. At times it feels like they’ve forgotten about it, then we see a real baby at the end when surely, as you say, it should have been either a CGI Brad Pitt baby or a man-size toddler?

    I am actually a huge fan of Alien 3. I wasn’t at first but now, especially when you compare it to the Alien films that have come since, I really like it.

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    Rodney Reply

    I think the main issue many folks have with TCCOBB was they couldn’t get past the often mawkish sentimentality of it. personally, I felt the emotion of the film palpably, but many can’t, and I can understand that. It’s not the easiest film to “enjoy” more than it is to “appreciate”, and I think my bias towards it stems from my admiration of Fincher as a filmmaker not afraid to take risks. Much like Christopher Nolan, to a degree, his has a definite stamp on his work, and you can feel him right there behind the camera, molding the film exactly as he sees fit.

    I think Fincher is better at the more straightforward film narrative, not the more not-quite-Tim-Burton-whymiscal style he’s embarked on here. Zodiac and The Social Network, for example, are superb films (perhaps even more so than TCCOBB) thanks mainly to their more linear, structured narratives, while this film seems to be bogged down TRYING to feel magical or Forrest Gump-ish, and dividing viewers instead.

    And yeah, I’d like to have seen Brad Pitt’s baby-form taking a dump in Cate Blanchett’s lap at some point – now there’s a Freudian concept for y’all!

  13. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Rodney: What a wonderful image of a nappy-wearing Brad Pitt I now have in my mind.

    It is interesting that you point out the sentimentality of the film. I think that is something that rarely bothers me if handled well. Although Fincher isn’t accustomed to it, it is obvious he isn’t a sentimental soul himself and I think that prevents the film from becoming too sugary sweet.

    As I mentioned in the review, I did like the film’s take on the face value of things. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button certainly isn’t without a few positives but ultimately I was wholly disappointed by it. There just wasn’t enough there to sustain my attention for its overly long running time.

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    DEZMOND Reply

    nice review, Dan!
    It was a nice film, although nothing overly special. I remember liking THE READER that year much much more.
    Although I don’t having anything against him, I think the film would’ve been better without Brad in the lead role. He is not a bad actor, but he isn’t great either and this one needed someone like Ewan McGregor, Bale or Jude Law, someone with depth.
    Off course, Cate Blanchett was light years above everybody else in the movie, with her magnificent and highly mesmerizing performance, especially the part when she lies on her deathbed in the hospital, where most viewers didn’t even notice it was her. I was disgusted and on the verge of a heartattack when she wasn’t even nominated for the role that year at the Oscars.

  15. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Dezmond: Thanks for the comment Dezzy. I too felt Brad Pitt’s performance was one of the weak aspects of the film. But I had no problem with Cate Blanchett – ever dependable.

  16. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    I actually liked this, but as you say, way too long!!!

  17. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Arguing about baby size at the start and end of a film where one is expected to totally suspend disbelief is perhaps being a bit too pedantic.

    Haven’t read the Fitzgerald novella, so it’s kinda hard to justify myself without being twee, but here goes:

    I thought there were two great moments in the film. The first was the montage near the end when Pitt (during a voiceover to his daughter)is doing menial jobs as an old man – it is exactly what he would be doing if he was a young man (being a parking attendant, mopping a floor), thus suggesting there’s not a lot of difference between who we blokes are during our rite of passage and what we become after we pass through it.

    The second is when Benny and Catie truly connect – from my estimation they are in their 40s (listening to Twist and Shout; watching the rocket launch), and that’s when she has the kiddie. Hell, it’s a love story.

    Haven’t seen all of Fincher’s stuff, but I thought this was pretty damn good.

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