David Fincher follows up his masterpiece Zodiac (2007) with another Brad Pitt collaboration, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, a film all about a guy who ages backwards.
The thing about David Fincher is, the darker he is the better he is. The dark themes inherent in his films like Seven are a testament to this. Only Fincher, in all his perplexities, could “lighten up” and still make one of his best films to date. Be under no illusions though, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not light-hearted by any means. No, instead, this is a film obsessed with mortality and loss. Still, for Fincher, that’s lightening up, and in doing so, he has crafted one of his finest movies.
Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous short story, Benjamin Button tells the story of the titular character Benjamin, played by Brad Pitt, one of the most under-rated actors of his generation. Benjamin is a man who is born a geriatric, and ages backwards as the years progress. Beginning life as an elderly child in his (adopted) parents nursing home, Benjamin has the mind of a child but the body of an elderly man. As the film progresses, we see Benjamin encounter many characters and places, from his work aboard a tug boat, losing his virginity, an affair with his first love and eventual descent into childhood.
Sometime in the 1930’s, whilst still in his 70’s, Benjamin meets a girl named Daisy, they play together as children, and when Benjamin leaves to go and work on a tugboat several years later, Daisy asks him to send her postcards from every place he visits. The two keep in touch through postcards, and eventually Benjamin, learning Daisy (now played with usual aplomb by Cate Blanchett) has become a successful dancer in New York, travels to see her, only to find she’s in love with a fellow dancer. He tries to accept that their lives have gone separate ways and leaves.
A few years pass and Daisy returns to the same New Orleans rest home where she grew up, and where Benjamin is now living, and her and Benjamin finally acknowledge their feelings for one another.
Their romance is the centre piece to the movie and it is here that Fincher’s film really excels, gliding effortlessly along with all the passion and grace of an Olympic ice skater. And Fincher charts a love that burns as brightly and briefly as a shooting star, through montages spanning several years. Eventually, following the birth of their daughter Caroline, Benjamin realises that his increasing youth, coupled with the arrival of Caroline, would be too much for Daisy, and decides to leave and travel the world.
Many years later a youthful Benjamin returns to see a now married Daisy, the two share one last night of passion before parting for good. Sometime later, Daisy nurses a now pre-pubescent (and senile) Benjamin into infancy and eventual death.
This is Pitt and Fincher’s third collaboration as actor and director, and both seem more relaxed both in front of and behind the camera. Fincher has grown as a film-maker. He has become deeper, more soulful, better at his craft, and here it shows. Gone are the anarchy and ultra-violence that so inhabited his previous films such as Fight Club. In their place?…Romance, sentiment and warmth.
However, Benjamin Button is not without its flaws, the main one being the character of Benjamin is not a particularly engaging hero. He is difficult to root for or even empathise with.
Despite this he remains Pitt’s finest work. A brooding, passive observer, whom Pitt plays with remarkable restraint. His performance makes Benjamin a mysterious and fascinating character, who always leaves the viewer longing for just that little bit more.