David Fincher's most gentle and moving film to date, 2008's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is a fantastic tale, perfectly told.
Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it's been expanded into a leisurely, enthralling adventure by screenwriter Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump" and the Gaga/Cooper version of "A Star is Born") that quietly weaves an amazing spell.
Brad Pitt is hugely underrated as one of our best American actors. In light of his Oscar for last year's Tarantino saga "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", its great to go back and see Pitt deliver not only a nuanced performance here, but tone perfect narration that spans the entire, near three-hour running time.
It's the tale of Benjamin, born as a tiny, very old man and aging backwards through his natural life span until he becomes a teenager, a young boy and eventually a newborn.
Never complicated but often rewarding, its fascinating to watch Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) use cutting edge special effects to enhance his story.
Pitt's excellent, as is the huge ensemble cast around him. Cate Blanchett ages just as much as Pitt does as Daisy, a neighbor girl that becomes the love of Benjamin's life. The challenges of watching their paths barrel toward each other in opposite directions create real tension and big screen, old-fashioned romance that would feel at home in any classic film of the 50's. Fincher has polished it all to a high sheen and wrapped it in an almost non-stop beautiful music score by Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water) and the sweeping camera of Claudio Miranda (The Life of Pi, The Game).
Julia Ormond (Sabrina) plays Daisy's daughter Caroline in framing scenes that serve the story well. Daisy is elderly, in her final hours and revealing Benjamin's story through his personal diary. Daisy asks Caroline to read it aloud as she dies and the story unfolds before us. As she reads to her mother in a New Orleans hospital, Hurricane Katrina barrels down on them, providing moving context and a brilliant final shot that's a Fincher masterstroke.
Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) is Queenie, the woman that finds Benjamin on her steps and adopts him as her own.
Mahershala Ali (True Detective)is Queenie's husband.
Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) is a core character that the middle-age Benjamin meets in a lonely Moscow hotel. She's mysterious and alluring, lulling the young Benjamin (who looks old!) into his first love.
Jared Harris (Fringe, Allied) is hilarious as the hard drinking tugboat captain that recruits a very old/young Benjamin into a one day journey that becomes a global career.
Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) shows great range as Benjamin's father in what could have been a thankless role.
Weaved gently through Benjamin's life are lessons on aging, appearances, redemption and youth.
There are long scenes that become milestones in both the film and their lives. Benjamin's visit at Daisy's opening night in "Carousel" on Broadway in NYC, the many nights in the huddled kitchen of the Moscow motel and some of the revelations for Caroline in the diary are unusually lyrical Fincher.
I loved the six different "hit by lightning" moments, they're funny, quiet bits that nicely balance the times that you realize Fincher and Ross have structured a powerful meditation on love & loss.
The message is captured well in this small piece of Benjamin's narration.
"I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
Well said and incredibly well told.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is in my all time top 50 and gets an A+. If you haven't seen it in a long time, it's worth a revisit.
And if you've never seen it, I envy you that experience.