The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Review
At the 2009 Oscars ceremony it was a two horse race between Britain's low budget 'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' - a big budget Hollywood movie. Like many others I felt that the Americans, being on home turf, would vote for their own home grown product. The fact that 'Slumdog..' won revived my faith in the fact that the AMPAS members had voted for the picture that they genuinely felt was the best, in their opinion.
Although I had seen 'Slumdog...' and understood what a well crafted movie it is, it was not until viewing 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' that I realised what a difficult decision the voters must have faced. Just how do you decide between two totally different styles of film that deal with such significantly diverse subjects? Define better!
'Ben Button' is a movie in the old tradition that takes its time (it's two and three quarter hours long, but it flies by) to tell a fascinating story well and also one that could not have been produced until recently without the developments in Special Effects make up that made it both believable and possible.
Taken from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it tells the tale of a man who is born old on the last day of the First World War “in unusual circumstances” in New Orleans. We see the wrinkled baby who suffers from arthritis and cataracts, ailments normally suffered by the old and infirm. His father (Jason Flemyng) leaves him on the steps of a nursing home for the elderly.
He is taken in and cared for by Queenie (Taraji P Henson) who brings him up in the safe surroundings of the nursing home. Benjamin ages backwards, becoming younger and better looking by the day as those around him grow older. No other environment could have underlined the 'curiousness' of his condition with such cruel irony.
Eventually Benjamin ventures into the big wide world and faces the hazards of life as well as of the heart. He meets Daisy, the love of his life, when she is just a little girl and he is an old man. Their reverse ageing means that they meet again at various points during Benjamin's journey through life. Benjamin's father visits him later in life but does not reveal who he is - preferring instead to be a 'friend' who just calls by now and again.
Benjamin's introduction to alcohol, women and a career aboard a tugboat provide many amusing moments which help us to like and love the character as we see in him many admirable human traits. The story contains many happy moments but it's ultimately very sad - and I really mean that, but not in a depressing way. It is above all an uplifting experience.
The script is by Oscar winner Eric Roth and it should come as no surprise that his earlier work includes the wonderful 'Forrest Gump'. This movie is heart warming in a different way though. We see a man become well as he grows older (or younger) and then regresses as his love, Daisy, can only try to take care of him.
It's a terrible admission for a guy to admit that he cried during a movie, but I have to hold my hand up to the fact that I found it hard to keep control of my emotions. The last time I was so moved was when I saw 'Lassie Come Home' when I was a kid - and I'm not saying that to get a laugh, it's totally true.
Those of us who think that this is a 'chick flick' couldn't be more wrong.
We live in a world where it still may be considered unacceptable for a man to be emotionally affected by a movie such as 'Ben Button' , but those of us who are secure in our sexuality and honest about our feelings can do so - and be more rounded human beings because of it.
This may be a tear jerker of a movie - but it's also a love story, an adventure and a spectacle all rolled into one.
The whole movie would have been dead in the water had it not been for the realistic make-up used to achieve the transition of Benjamin from wizened old man to handsome youth and beyond. At no point did I think that I was looking at good make-up and that must surely be the test of an effect that works. It just looked so real.
The same can be said of the CGI that was used to create the period settings. There was only one point on board the tugboat that I felt was a 'suss job' where the waves didn't quite look real. The rest is a tribute to the team of artists, whose work and attention to detail just cannot be faulted.
I've never really regarded Brad Pitt as anything special as an actor, but I have now gained a tremendous respect for his range and just what he is capable of through his performance as Benjamin.
Taraji P. Henson was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the warm hearted Queenie - and fully deserved to win. In the event, the movie actually walked off with statuettes for Best Art Direction, Make-up & Special Effects although it was nominated in 13 categories.
There's enough of a 'hook' in the curiousness of the premise that a man could possibly be born old and get younger. While it's quite fantastic, we're drawn into believing in the possibility by the opening sequence where a man (who's son has died in the war) builds a large clock for a communal area that goes backwards in the vain hope that it may turn back time and bring those who died in the First World War back to their loved ones. It's sentimental for sure, but it's also very touching.
'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is a rewarding experience and a very well made movie into the bargain. Don't be afraid to watch it because there is human emotion involved.
It has an excellent story, first rate acting from a strong cast, confident directing by David Fincher - and it's a picture you'll remember for the rest of your life.