Director David Fincher, a visual genius known more for putting Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box than warming hearts, gives us The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his third film with Brad Pitt. Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it's a movie that casts a spell for nearly three hours, and Fincher proves he is right at home in enchanting-fable territory.
The special effects in this film are extraordinary ... perhaps some of the best visual achievements ever put on film. The movie tells the tale of Button (Pitt), born an 80-year-old baby who ages backward. Over the course of the film, we see an elderly baby grow in size, eventually turning into the Brad Pitt we all know, and then shrink into infancy. His reverse aging is a wonder to behold, especially when the elderly character is the size of a 10-year-old.
Seeing Pitt's features merged into those of an 80-year-old man-child is amazing, for sure. Benjamin is bound to a wheelchair at first, residing in New Orleans. Queenie, the woman raising him (an excellent Taraji P. Henson), is convinced he's just a sick boy who will die soon. But Benjamin, during a funny and visually amazing faith-healing sequence, learns to walk, notices his body toning up and starts to grow in height.
As Benjamin leaves old age, he travels all over the world, including a stint on a boat with crusty sea captain Mike (the funny and ever-reliable Jared Harris). One of the film's best sequences involves Benjamin at sea during wartime, sailing into treacherous waters at night. Fincher stages this scene in a manner that is actually quite frightening, showing off his ability to make sequences that can be disturbing and tense.
The screenplay was written by Eric Roth, who also penned Forrest Gump, another picture about a man's epic journey. At the film's core is an endearing love story between Benjamin and Daisy (Cate Blanchett).
Daisy is introduced as she's in her death bed, with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on her hospital; her character then ages through flashbacks. One of the film's framing devices is Daisy's daughter (Julia Ormond) reading from Benjamin's diary, finding out for the first time about Benjamin's involvement in their lives. Fincher and his visual team do a wonderful job of making Blanchett look like both a 20-year-old ballerina and an old woman preparing for her trip into the great hereafter.
Pitt has done his finest work in Fincher films. Fight Club and Se7en showcase two of his best performances, and there's something very special about what he does in Button. His acting is very quiet and subtle, and it's remarkably effective. It's been a banner year for the actor, with his distinguished work here and his outrageous performance in Burn After Reading. I'm hoping he makes at least three more films with Fincher.
As impressive as the actors are, this one is mostly Fincher's triumph. His projects have always had a darkness about them, and while Button isn't devoid of sadness, it certainly has a more upbeat vibe. It can also be defined as epic, and leaves no doubt that Fincher can handle a grand-scale production.
As with all of Fincher's movies, every frame of the film feels as if the director took great care. He's one of the great visual directors, but this film is also further proof of his deft ability to get great acting from his performers.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button proves it's a classic right out of the gate.