Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button...leaves me asking Why?


After watching this movie, I found myself wondering just what will this year's Oscar race look like?!  This is a movie that has absolutely everything going for it from the cast to the unique story to the heart-wrenching emotion, but somewhere along the line I jumped ship.  I was fully prepared to be gushing about this one on here, and instead I find myself wondering, just where in the world are all the really great movies playing?  Maybe it would help if I sorted things out in an organized manner.

First things first, there's the all-star cast.  Headed by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, assisted by Tilda Swinton and Julia Ormand, these should all be standouts.  Instead I found them all holding back slightly.  Perhaps it was the almost constant whispering, but I felt detached from all of them.  Perhaps the cast member generating the most Oscar-buzz, Taraji P. Henson, as Benjamin's surrogate mother, is indeed the heart of this picture, but there's something that doesn't sit right with me, something feeling more stereotypical than genuine about her Queenie.  Pitt and Blanchett prove to be a good pairing, and Swinton is fantastic and engrossing as always, but gone too soon.  

Secondly, the story.  Adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald (not known for his life-affirming optimism) Eric Roth's screenplay feels as hurried as a couple of southerners for life sipping on sweet-tea.  Nothing is rushed and it is nice to see a film where the editing doesn't involve five million milli-second cuts, but at the same time, there are moments where there just isn't a whole lot going on.  Roth, the writer of Forrest Gump, relies far too much on his proven story-telling instruments.  There were actually times where I thought I was having a flashback to the 1994 classic.  The childhood, love-of-your-life story, the odyssey like trek through Benjamin's early life, the catch phrases (instead of "life's like a box of chocolates" we're simply given "you never know what's coming for ya".  If you do get a chance to see this, tell me if there isn't a part where you say to yourself, "is Lieutenant Dan on that boat?"

For a film with such a unique concept, the story feels predictable at moments, and, if I'm being honest, kind of creepy in others.  I know that the emotions should have been running high at the end, but I just didn't feel invested enough in the characters' lives.  Instead, I just wished that they would stop with a ridiculous running semi-joke and the flashbacks that took me away from emotional investment.  It felt like it wasn't quite sure whether it wanted to be funnier than it ended up being, but knew it should have been more serious than the final cut.

Finally the technicals. If there's one major thing this movie has going for it, it's the visuals.  The cinematography is beautiful and the editing meticulous, something we rarely see any more.  There's definitely a little extra time basking in the gorgeousness that is Brad Pitt, as he hits the prime of Benjamin's life.  I have to say the lighting during this sequence is picture-perfect, and the costumes are something even Edith Head would have wanted her name on.  The special effects are clearly top-notch and I shouldn't complain about the length, but I just wish that I had something more to feel after an investment like that. 

Overall, I have to say that where Forrest Gump hit all the right notes about life and love and living the life you're given to the fullest, this only hits half.  While I truly admire David Fincher for trying something new, I miss the surprise of Fight Club and the suspense and realism of Se7en.  I think he works better in the nitty gritty.  This has enough going for it that by the time the Oscars roll around it should still get plenty of nods, but it feels like it will happen because it was carefully designed for awards season not because it takes you by surprise and MAKES you love it.

Overall: 3.5 buttons out of 5 for Benjamin.

1 comment:

Kevin's Film Blog said...

I totally agree. I'm so disappointed, but now that I look back, I'm not sure why I was so excited to see it in the first place. I feel sort of duped. Its story sounded so unique, but it just came off as dull and dare I say "lifeless". Almost as if I could feel myself aging while watching it. Where's the whimsy, the charm, the humor? Hopefully in Frost/Nixon...better luck next time Fincher.