The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The strangest, yet fascinating and very good film I've seen in ages is one that probably should never have been made; I discuss that below. It's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and no doubt you've heard that it's the story of a man born, as a tiny baby, with all the characteristics of an 80-year-old man; wizened, bald, and so forth, who then grows younger year by year until he dies as a baby. Benjamin is played by Brad Pitt, who lacks the charisma of most stars but somehow seems the right choice to play a man who doesn't really know how to handle his life.
With an idea taken from a late-19th century story and then F. Scott Fitzgerald's version of it, the film does work in an unexpected way. It captures, scene by scene, moments and perhaps epiphanies in the life of Benjamin, rather than taking what I'd have to call a biological view of his story; that is, a year-by-year dissection of a life.
It begins with his birth in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century; his father, shocked by the strange creature, and with his mother dying in childbirth, leaves him at the doorstep of a nursing home, run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson in a beautiful performance). He grows up there, gradually shedding his old-man's crutches, cane and stoop. His life in the home, and in that beautiful city, is wonderfully done by director David Fincher, who's been known previously only for bizarre, strangely compelling films like "Fight Club" and "Zodiac" and "Se7en."
These early episodes are magically photographed (by Claudio Miranda); Benjamin loves to sit by the Mississippi and watch the boats.
One day a tugboat captain asks for someone to come work on his ship; Benjamin signs on, the Second World War comes and the tug is fitted for ocean work and sent to Murmansk. There Benjamin meets the wife of a British agent (Tilda Swinton) and they have a clandestine romance. Back after the war he remeets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the grandchild of a nursing home resident; and as their ages come more or less together they find they share a great, romantic love, shadowed by the knowledge that as she grows older he will always grow younger.
Fincher and his writer Eric Roth find ways to avoid a strict biological view of Benjamin, using a structure that puts us always and only in the moments when time seems to stand still. He frames the story by having the daughter of Benjamin and Blanchett read their correspondence as Daisy lies dying in a New Orleans hospital just when Hurricane Katrina is about to strike the city.
In a sense, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a film whose concept is so strange, whose emotional impact should have come from reading the story on the page -- in which case our own minds would be the creators of its images -- and yet it works, and works, and works again, and is wonderfully, strangely provocative; I find myelf delighted to give it high marks for that.