Saturday, January 10, 2009

Review -- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In the entertainment industry, if you should get so far as pitching your idea to a busy studio exec, you will often be asked to encapsulate your project by describing two or more movies which sum up your story idea (e.g.:"It's like Terminator meets Jaws" or "The Mission meets Soul Man"). Were I to pitch “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” I would describe it as "Big Fish meets Forrest Gump with a twist of somber dignity a la Fincher". Curiously, I later found out that Benjamin Button’s screenplay was written by Eric Roth, who also wrote the screenplay for Forrest Gump.

Critics of this movie will say that it is too long. Though Benjamin Button’s 2:48 minutes’ runtime included hours of jaw dropping effects, I will have to agree. Contrary to the reviewer on my local news I did check my watch—more than once. If hours of special effects are all it takes to keep the audience in their seats and the critics sated, then Michael Bay would magically turn from a well-funded military promoter into an auteur of the highest caliber (where, oh where, Mr. Bay, is your fairy godmother to turn your pumpkins into enchanted coaches?).

The most curious thing about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is its lack of emotional depth. While I applaud Mr. Fincher for expanding his impressive directing chops, I lament the absence of that sympathetic examination of man and the human condition that usually characterize his films. His altruism and empathy are often cited as his contributions to filmmaking, yet the two players who comprise Benjamin Button’s overarching theme, an epic love story, lack more than chemistry. Daisy (played without much enthusiasm by Cate Blanchette), the love interest seems never to outgrow her first reaction to Benjamin: morbid curiosity. That Ms. Blanchette is capable of more nuanced performances has been made clear by performances such as her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn. However, neither Ms. Blanchette nor Mr. Pitt’s considerable talent and screen charisma were in attendance at the filming of this movie.

The Bottom Line:

While it may have owed a lot to its predecessors in establishing genre parameters and ensuring butts in the seats (Tim Burton's whimsical and macabre offerings have been largely responsible for resurrecting the fairy tale/fantasy genres), its dark, stormy palette and knee slapping humor are all its own

The tall tales genre, by its definition, is a difficult genre to which to add something original and yet the tales themselves demand ever larger breaks with convention. The more important element of any good tall tales film, like the stories that comprise its form, is its mood and its telling. Beautifully and magically shot in David Fincher’s usual palette of muted storm colors, it is a sumptuous volume to add to the fairy tale library.