The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
First draft of this month's film review. C&C welcome as always (I've had to dash this one off).
The First Rule of Darby And Joan Club Is...
I'm excited this month. With my copy deadline falling before the Oscar ceremony on the 22nd February, here's my chance to pick a film that I think is going to win all the gongs, and if I'm right you think I'm really clever and if I'm not, well.....we'll come to that. So off I trot to the local Odeon to see my (hitherto hype-based) shoo-in for Best Picture – David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1921 short story and updated to New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina rolls in, it tells of the elderly Daisy on her deathbed (Cate Blanchett, in astonishing makeup) asking her elder daughter to read a diary in her case. It belonged to Benjamin (Brad Pitt), and he narrates from here on in. On the day that the Great War ended in 1918, a woman dies giving birth to a boy so deformed that his father leaves it on the stoop of an old people's home. They take him in, and realise that he's not deformed but has a body that's 86 years old. As he grows up, his body becomes younger, and the 9-year-old Daisy he meets at the home as she visits her grandmother grows up to meet him somewhere in the middle.
With obvious parallels to The Time Traveler's Wife, the relationship is fraught with difficulty – Button might only be twelve, but he looks old enough to be Daisy's grandad. And it takes many years for them to actually get it together, but to be honest by this point I'd stopped caring. Pitt's performance is sturdy enough. His subtle, subdued portrayal of Button is probably his best, even under all that makeup, and he just about deserves that Best Actor nomination. Blanchett's, however, is a little odd. Whilst I know it's an actress' job to display complex, flawed character, this one left me wondering why Benjamin bothered. One moment, she's dismissing him out of hand, the next she's seducing him on a bandstand. Pitt refuses, and I'm thinking “good on you, fella”. Of course they hook up in the end, of course there's a tragedy, of course it's all going to end (this is a film about time, after all). It's beautifully lit and the makeup-and-CGI de-ageing is groundbreaking and it's all terribly well played, but I left the cinema feeling curiously cheated, still waiting for the surprise I felt three long hours and a £5.60 popcorn combo deserved.
The rest of the film feels almost like padding. And there's a lot of it – characters flit in and out of Benjamin's life with what to me seems little to add (though Benjamin insists on quoting their aphorisms to the end). A special note must be made though of his encounter with Tilda Swinton's Elizabeth – wife of a British diplomat (cf: spy) in Murmansk, whose delicate, almost fearful performance had me enthralled.
So will it (or, by the time you read this, did it) win? Possibly, though I think Slumdog Millionaire might pip it. But then, what do I know – 15 years ago they favoured Forrest Gump (and if you see ...Button, you may have a curious case of déja vu) over a film which has since become rather more respected. Let's hope that this year there's no Shawshank Redemption........