The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Year: 2008
Studio: Warner Bros/Paramount
Director: David Fincher
Producer: Kathleen Kennedy/Frank Marshall
Writer: Eric Roth/F Scott Fitzgerald
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond, Elias Koteas, Jason Flemyng, Tilda Swinton
A few things recommended this movie very highly. The first was the trailer, which promised a tragic and beautiful fairytale in the mould of Tim Burton at his best. The second was a cast of some of the most accomplished actors working today. And the last and strongest was the presence of one of the most exciting filmmakers in history, let alone still alive.

David Fincher has slowly and quietly risen above the stock of fanboy cultists (Jackson, Tarantino), masterful vets (Spielberg, Scorsese) and indie legends (Lynch, Aronofsky) to take his place effortlessly straddling them all. His films are entertaining, always have something to say and frequently come as close to perfect as it's possible for a film to do. Seeing how he'd handle Eric Roth's script from F Scott Fitzgerald's short story assured bucket-loads of 'want-see'.

So it's even doubly disappointing to see there's something wrong with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Just what is wrong with it, it's hard to say. It's one of the most well made films you'll see this year, but as far as being a good film, it's missing something that's almost impossible to put your finger on. We've all seen the X factor that makes so many films great when they look terrible on paper - Benjamin Button has the opposite problem.

The story of a baby born old who ages backwards is a technical masterwork. The CGI and make-up effects that bring Benjamin to life are seamless - most amazingly as an enfeebled seven year old boy not just with the visage of an eighty year old man but the unmistakable face and voice of a deep south Brad Pitt.

But the problems lie with the story. While an extremely well-made movie that deserves kudos in almost every category of the filmmaking craft, it's just not a very good movie, the plot running out of steam in the last two thirds. The early scenes of Benjamin as a baby, young boy and his youth as a traveller and sailor have the autumnal fairytale sheen you're hoping for (and saw in the trailer), but when Benjamin and lifelong love Daisy (Cate Blanchett, who undergoes some digital and make-up treatment of her own) finally get together in the 60s the old world charm loses its lustre and it becomes a fairly uninteresting relationship drama.

It's all told in flashback by an ancient Daisy to her grown daughter (Julia Ormond) as the former lies dying in a New Orleans hospital bed with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the city, loosely tracking the story of Benjamin's life thanks to a diary he kept, letters he wrote and postcards he sent.

But the story - probably sawn down from double this length knowing Fincher's sense of perfection - needed another hour taken out. The entire sequence of an affair between Benjamin and a buttoned down British diplomat's wife (Tilda Swinton) is irrelevant, except to say that Benjamin would know love in his life despite his bizarre circumstances.

But where every frame is beautiful, they're not perfect to the extent they were in Zodiac - still Fincher's Citizen Kane. It's a genuine pleasure to see a movie with nice colours, soft edges and a slow-burn sensibility in the camerawork and cinematography in an age where all the cool directors are going violently gritty handheld.

But there are just too many times you'll be checking your watch, listening to your growling stomach or shifting in your seat to keep your butt awake, too many scenes where Fincher and Benjamin don't hold on to you urgently enough. So while any bad film by Fincher is still going to be way better than the greatest films of plenty of his contemporaries, this is far from his best.

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