Despite being shamelessly overlooked at this years Oscars (despite a massive 13 nominations), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has all the ingredients to be remembered as a modern classic. Based on a F Scott Fitzgerald short story. The film follows the life of Benjamin (Brad Pitt) who ages backwards, being born in the body of an 80 year old and regressing back to infancy. As an aged and wrinkled child, Benjamin is shunned by his biological father and dumped at an old-fellows home to be raised by Queenie (Oscar Nominee Taraji P. Henson). There he meets Daisy (Cate Blanchet) a young girl who he immediately falls in love with, and whose own life and aging will occur in startling contrast to his own. Set against the shifting backdrops of New Orleans, New York, Russia and the Deep South, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button weaves a fairytale tapestry of youth, innocence and how learning what it takes to love can take a lifetime.
A tale so fraught with overt sentimentality it could be potentially nauseating, but luckily this material is in the safe hands of David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac), a man known for his dark and violent tales of existential angst. As in their previous two collaborations, Fincher extracts the best from Pitt. Without a doubt this is Brad Pitt’s film, relegating the talented supporting cast to the wings as the audience lives vicariously through Benjamin. Pitt’s wide-eyed innocence and gradual world-weariness is painfully truthful as Benjamin begins to learn the ways of life and love. The other performances are equally mesmerising with Blanchett igniting the screen with a firebrand performance as young Daisy and a more tempered (and Katherine Hepburn-esque) performance as an elderly Daisy whose final act of love is to care for Benjamin in his old age (when he is a child). Tilda Swinton is also particularly strong as the married ambassadors wife who leads the young Benjamin into adult hood with a passionate affair in a Russian port.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a risky film for all involved. It relies on Pitt to carry its weight, Blanchett to unsympathetically break our hearts and for Fincher to bring it all back together again- in terrain that couldn’t be further from his normal stomping ground. Yet somehow it all comes together. Blanchett has said, “when one deals with an epic romance, a film like this could have easily gone into the sentimental, but given that we have got David Fincher, who is the world’s greatest cynic at the helm, we were safe.” The themes of innocence lost and found, and the fragility of life are all especially prevalent and held together with an inspired recontextualisation to Hurricane Katrina era New Orleans. It’s a long film (13 minutes shy of three hours) but the film is driven by such a team of superstars, that like Benjamin himself- you will treasure every moment. Don’t miss it whilst it is still in cinemas.
Four and a Half Stars.