Tuesday, September 9, 2014

David Fincher Retrospective: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Director:  David Fincher
Starring:  Brade Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P Henson, Julia Ormand, Jason Flemyng, Elias Koteas, Tilda Swinton, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning
Rated:  PG-13

Me and Jenny goes together like peas and carrots
                   ~Forrest Gump

We didn't have to wait even close to five years to get our next David Fincher film.  Right on the heels of Zodiac, came The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button the following year.  This was Fincher straying from his path and going after something different.  Fincher has always been an ambitious filmmaker, but this was a whole new set of ambition.  Taking on Benjamin Button was very much his way of sort of doing a fantasy film.  The film got pushed back twice, from May of 2008 to November, and then finally settling on a Christmas time release squaring up against that wretched Marley & Me "oh cute, look, a puppy!" movie.  Benjamin Button was easily one of my most eagerly anticipated films of that year.  I thought the premise was great and that the footage I was seeing looked spectacular. 
My wife and I (then my fiancee) were staying at my parents over the holiday weekend.  My parents wanted us all to go see a movie together.  And we got into that classic "We can go see anything you want to, Brandon" which always ends up being us going to see the absolute 1 movie I DON'T want to see.  Guess what we went to?  Marley & Me.  It was ever bit of the trite bullshit it looked to be.  Benjamin Button had to wait.  My parents had no interest in that or Valkyrie.  I told them I would rather watch a marathon of reality television than sit through Marley & Me.  If we ever get to the George Romero "Dead' series, I'll get to share the crowning jewel of "getting to pick whatever movie you want to go to, Brandon" circumstances.  It will blow your mind what we went to see.
For this retrospective is only the second time I've ever seen The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.  I was not a fan at all in my initial viewing.  The film just sort of rubbed me the wrong way and I felt incredibly detached from it and uncaring.  It also felt incredibly long.  If it wasn't for this retrospective, I'd have zero desire to ever revisit the movie on my own.  But, I'm all for the cause here and I'm always willing to give a movie a second chance.  Maybe I had a bad day when I first saw, wasn't in the mood, "didn't get it" the first time around...all sorts of factors.  Believe it or not folks, there are movies you didn't like the first time around that maybe, just maybe with another sitting, you might come around on it or see something in it that you didn't on the initial watch.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button was not one of those movies for me.  I had the same feeling about it this time as I did before.  Its a long film that completely drags for me.  There are a couple cute and interesting bits, but its few and far between.  The aging backwards aspect of the film, that is what interested me most, is nothing more than a gimmick.  Benjamin Button would play out all the same had he just aged normally too.  Which brings me to wondering "what was the purpose of all that" after I watch the film.  My good friend and Forbes writer Scott Mendelson has a running gag on Twitter and Facebook about "Dark & Gritty" reboots of movies.  Benjamin Button is actually one come to fruition; the "dark and gritty" version of Forrest Gump.  Beat by beat and character moment by character moment these films are pretty much the exact same film.  Except, Benjamin Button has removed all the eccentrics and fun of Gump that helped make it so engaging and enjoyable.  What we're left with is something just dry and drab.
But that's not to say that Benjamin Button is without merit.  I may not have enjoyed the film, but I can respect  its details which includes the remarkable achievement it made in the way of digital filmmaking.  The aging of Brad Pitt is absolutely stunning.  Everything from his face to his body is a massive achievement and was well deserving of every accolade and award to this day.  And I must say, the technology on it still holds up.  Lesser praised, but it should be noted that Cate Blanchett's aging is pretty impressive as well.  This film also is oozing with style.  Its got a great look and I really enjoy the aesthetic of the flashbacks to sort of resemble what a film looked like in a movie house back in the era of World War I.  There's also a wonderful romantic fantasy aspect to the scenes where Benjamin Button is out at sea that I enjoy.  Fincher really did direct the hell out of this thing, its evident in pretty much every scene. And I can see beyond my dislike of the film and respect that.  
Brad Pitt marks his third foray into working with David Fincher here.  He's one of the best parts of the film by far.  Pitt is actually pretty great here and in a big shocker, actually outdoes Cate Blancett (which I think this might be my least favorite Blanchett performance of all time, ESPECIALLY when she is the old woman in the hospital bed.  Ugh...).  I most enjoy Pitt when he is the old man.  This is the only time in the movie where it appears they want to have some fun.  As he gets younger, when he gets to his "handsome" phase, this movie starts to become all about mugging the camera, but Pitt is still very good.  I'm sure we'll see Fincher and Pitt reteam again in the future, its something audiences seem to look forward to seeing and its kind of an aspect of who Fincher is too.
After two sittings, theatrical and years later with no expectation in the comfort of my own home, I still am not a fan of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.  Its a really long movie that feels even longer.  For me, I feel pretty much detached from these characters and events, and by the end I'm left with feeling like I just watched almost 3 hours of this...maybe love story...and I don't understand what I'm really to take from it.  The film isn't without merit though, as the digital effects are outstanding in this movie and used to the degree that they should be in a film.  I'm not sure who's to blame for my feelings on the film, but I really don't think its David Fincher.  He worked his ass off on this film and even though I didn't like it, I can still recognize it.  But, this remains his first misstep for me as he I thought he had a pretty great run up until this film.

NEXT TIME:  Spider-Man, The Lone Ranger and Lex Luthor go head to head to head.

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