Monday, January 5, 2009

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

RATING: Recommend it
ANALOGY: "Big Fish" meets "Forrest Gump"
SYNOPSIS (from official site): "I was born under unusual circumstances." And so begins “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” adapted from the 1920s story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man who is born in his eighties and ages backwards. We follow his story set in New Orleans from the end of World War I in 1918, into the 21st century, following his journey that is as unusual as any man’s life can be. It is a time traveler’s tale of the people and places he bumps into along the way, the loves he loses and finds, the joys of life and the sadness of death, and what lasts beyond time.
SOUNDTRACK: Yes. Score by Alexandre Desplat. The first disc is the movie score, the second disc's tracks are lines from the movie and other non-score songs (i.e. "Dear Old Southland" by Louis Armstrong).

REVIEW: A beautifully crafted, if a bit long-winded, story of life, love and, more often than not, death.

Brad Pitt (Benjamin Button) turns in his most well-rounded performance, Cate Blanchett (Daisy) is lovely as usual, and Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth Abbott) is in top form. One of the film's true marvels is how realistically all of the characters age (or, in Pitt's case, get younger). Many hours in the makeup chair paid off.

I was not completely sold on the convention of a dying Daisy having her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) read to her from Benjamin's diary as Hurricane Katrina is approaching New Orleans. It was the only part of the film that felt cheesy, a bit contrived and overly sentimental. That said, the entire film easily could have veered into that realm. And in another director's hands, it may have turned into a sickenly bittersweet opus, but David Fincher ("Fight Club," "Zodiac") kept it grounded by mixing in the right dose of comic relief, visual effects and reality.

The film focuses on the repeating themes of growing old and death, which of course, go hand in hand for everyone. Well, everyone except Benjamin. All in all, it's a visually stunning tear-jerker that forces its audience to consider those touchy themes in a new light.

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