Pros:Fascinating premise, strong acting performances.
Cons:Weak second half.
The Bottom Line: Unlike Benjamin Button, this film slows as it goes.
At two hours and forty five minutes in length, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a fairly serious commitment. All things considered, it's probably worth seeing, but I have to say that despite all the accolades this film has received I ultimately found it a little unsatisfying.
You've seen the previews. Curiously enough, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) is born like no one else on earth, in that he lives his life in reverse, becoming younger as he ages. As one might suppose, this makes living, working, and forming relationships more than a little challenging. The film follows Benjamin's struggle to make his way in the world after being abandoned at birth. Cate Blanchett co-stars as Daisy, Button's sometimes-love interest who keeps popping up throughout his life. She, of course, is aging in the right direction, and the conflict this causes drives the majority of the film‘s plot.
By the way, Benjamin's story is told through his journal, which is being read aloud to a woman on her deathbed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Seriously. The identity of the woman and the reader only gradually becomes apparent as the film progresses.
The first half of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is pretty fabulous. The concept is certainly thought-provoking, which I dig. The most interesting aspect of the film isn't so much in Benjamin's character as how others react to him and his age, and responses run the gauntlet. Most of the supporting characters truly shine in their roles, which is fortunate because the film's vignette style means there is a whole gaggle of them. Taraji Henson gives a touching performance as Benjamin's adopted mother Queenie, the film's most likeable character. Tilda Swinton is fascinating and bizarre (as always) as Elizabeth Abbott, partner in Benjamin's first reciprocal love affair. Jared Harris provides some comic relief as the good-spirited but often drunk Captain Mike, Benjamin's first boss.
The make-up and special effects teams obviously worked overtime as this one because Benjamin's reverse aging is really the focal point of the film. Somebody should be congratulated because Pitt manages to look quite convincing throughout his middle-age and late life youth. Baby old man Benjamin is kind of creepy and reminds me of Dobby the House Elf, but I suppose that was always to be expected. You can't help but root for this misfit kid, in spite of or perhaps because of his bizarre existence. Cate Blanchett likewise ages realistically before the viewer's eyes.
While the first half of my review - and the film - is good, things take a dramatic turn for the worse around Benjamin Button's midway point. This is primarily because the plot devotes itself to the Benjamin/Daisy love story from that point onward and I found this aspect of the film to be its least compelling. Mainly, this is because Daisy sucks. She is a nasty, self-centered teen and a nasty, self-centered adult and the attraction between the two is never fully believable. I feel that Blanchett greatly overacts, although many other reviewers obviously disagree with me on this point. More significantly, though, the film's plot abruptly turns from being fresh and unexpected to dull and unsatisfying with some major plot holes. The second half of Benjamin Button actually reminds me very much of Meet Joe Black, another relatively depressing epic-length Brad Pitt vehicle. I didn't like Meet Joe Black very much either.
While we're on the subject of criticism, I have to say that I hate the decision to frame Benjamin Button's story within the context of an elderly lady's deathbed flashbacks. Why does everything always have to be a flashback? The whole concept is cliché and these segments add nothing to the film except length.
Overall . . .
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one of those films you "should" see. How much you will actually enjoy it will depend on your attention span and tolerance for tragic romance. I applaud Benjamin Button for offering something different but wish it could have done so more succinctly.
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Movie Mood: Serious Movie