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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » February 18, 2009
Film review
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
February 18, 2009 By Witold Żygulski   
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Thirteen nominations for this year's Academy Awards is reason enough to check out the latest offering from David Fincher (Se7en, Alien 3, Fight Club). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is based on a 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and is Fincher's first film to be rated PG-13 (parental guidance recommended for children under 13.) It is also his first film to eschew action sequences in favor of a powerful atmosphere that builds up unremittingly. The violence and graphic imagery normally associated with Fincher are almost absent here. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a somber and contemplative allegory, a genre seldom explored nowadays.

The setting is late August in 2005 and New Orleans is battening down for Hurricane Katrina. The elderly Daisy Williams (Cate Blanchett-Notes on a Scandal, Lord of the Rings trilogy) is slowly dying in a local hospital. She asks her 37-year-old daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond-Legends of the Fall, First Knight, Sabrina) to read from a diary she inherited from one Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt-Burn After Reading, Troy, Babel), a mysterious friend who had died a few years previously.

The diary opens with "I was born under unusual circumstances." He can say that again. Benjamin Button was born a sick, old man who grew progressively younger throughout his 86 years. This condition rendered the hapless Benjamin, except during a few short midlife years, a biological mismatch for anyone he loved, or who loved him. This was especially poignant with Daisy, whom he first met and fell in love with when he was 12, i.e biologically 74. They finally had a relationship when he was 49 (37) and he fathered a child by her. No prizes for guessing who that was. Button died a happy newborn baby oblivious to the world around him. He left this world held by Daisy, by now a woman of around 80, in the same nursing home on whose doorstep he had been abandoned 86 years before.

Fincher's picture is often compared with Robert Zemeckis's Forrest Gump (1994)-not without reason, as they share the same screenwriter, Eric Roth. Both characters may be misfits in their own inimitable ways but that is where the obvious similarity ends. Forrest Gump is highly emotional but verges on being what is these days labeled "developmentally challenged." The "emotionally challenged" Benjamin Button, with his razor-sharp mind, could not be more different. Pitt plays his role to perfection and cannot help but bring to mind Louis de Pointe du Lac, the 200-year-old vampire he played in Neil Jordan's Interview with a Vampire (1994). He brings the same listlessness and emotional detachment to the part and seems possessed of the same understanding of life and foreknowledge of what it holds in store. Nothing Pitt does betrays Benjamin's feelings even for a second. Not his behavior, not his words, not his gestures. Only the close-ups of his eyes give a clue as to what might be going on in Benjamin's head. This might lend The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a superficial coldness but the more sensitive viewer will not interpret this welcome absence of overblown histrionics as an absence of emotion.

The makeup artists deserve special mention and it will be a monumental injustice if they do not take out the Oscar this year.
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