David Fincher’s take on F.Scott Fitzgerald’s short novel, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is by no means the first attempt to endeavour upon what would seem to be a simple concept. This actual mammoth of a task has been tackled with by various directors in the past, with the the likes of Spielberg and Spike Jonze stepping up to the challenge but never managing to quite hit the nail on the head. However, Fincher has finally brought his version into fruition and just as well too, delivering a deeply felt, inventive piece of cinema dipped in melancholy and glossed over with some incredible special effects. Told by Daisy (Blanchett) from a hospital bed in her last moments of life as Hurricane Katrina rages outside (which we are returned to from time to time), the story spans through much of America’s history, including both world wars, telling the story of Benjamin and his strange condition; Benjamin gets physically younger as he gets older.
With Eric Roth helming the screenplay, it’s difficult to avoid similarities with Forrest Gump (for which he also penned the screenplay) and the familiar southern accent may fondly remind many of Hanks’s similar narrative voice. Obviously, the concept of the time is the essence of the film, and the significance of the clock which runs backwards instead of forwards is indicative of this from the start, perhaps even over-literal. The inevitability of death is also a running theme throughout the movie, and the message about the value of life is possibly the most poignant. But it’s the love story between Benjamin (Pitt) and Daisy (Blanchett) that Fincher pays most attention to, showing how their different paths through life do not allow for them to grow older together, but instead to pass by, sharing a mutual point in time where their relationship comes into sync and they share a brief but beautiful period of time together.
In amongst all the emotional strife, it’s easy to forget or overlook the digital effects that lend themselves so effectively yet subtly to Pitt’s ageing process. The gradual transformation towards a youthful pre-Johnny Suede (without the fantastic hairstyle) is both remarkable and moving, and it’s easy to share Blanchett’s reaction when she gazes upon a 20-something Brad in shock. With Burn After Reading still lingering in the air, and his remarkable performance in The Assassination of Jesse James, Brad has not let anything slip and is still proving himself as a diverse actor. Here we are given a delicate performance, mixing the frailty of old age with the spirit of active youth and what’s more, he delivers with a sense of subtlety throughout. One of the most interesting things about Button is that you know exactly what to expect yet that doesn’t seem to matter once Fincher starts the tale rolling, and clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s surprising how quickly the time flies by. Come the day, Button deserves to win every award it receives (the Oscar for cinematography is surely in the bag?) and will easily be a contender for the best film of the year. Slumdog who?