Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #231
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett
When The Curious Case of Benjamin Button first hit theaters, I was its most ardent defender. It's just like Forrest Gump, the naysayers would insist. No, I would say, it's not. Forrest Gump relied on real historical events to show the impact of its protagonist on the world, while Benjamin Button was a completely fictionalized account that followed the life of someone who was born old and aged backwards. This twist on the plot had never been done before, so certain cliches were inevitable and, indeed, forgivable. But the best thing about it is the makeup and special effects, my assailants continued. Shouldn't a movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar be more than something nice to look at? It is more than that, I protested. Sure, it looks great, and they made Brad Pitt look believable at every age, but it's also a great, touching movie with fine performances and an interesting plot. But isn't the message a little banal, they would ask. No, I would reply. When has a carpe diem message been a bad thing in the past? Isn't it at least a little ironic that a movie about using the little time we have on this earth wisely is three and a half hours long and feels every minute of it? I had to give them that one. Now, I'm inclined to give them all of those points. In two years, I went from thinking The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was one of the best films of 2008 to thinking it basically sucked. Sorry, fans.
Visually, Benjamin Button is one of the highlights of an otherwise somewhat drab year. Fincher knows how to construct a scene, and with the help of some of the most immaculate makeup since The Elephant Man in 1980, Brad Pitt is consumed by the role of Benjamin Button, a Cajun baby born as an old man who ages backwards until he dies as an infant. CGI does its fair share, but the makeup artists pull the weight, and the crew was rightly rewarded with an Achievement in Makeup Academy Award. Speaking of Pitt, his performance is fantastic, although we probably shouldn't expect anything different at this point. In my humble opinion, he's the best actor in Hollywood today to have never won an Oscar for a performance. Unfortunately, the greatness basically stops there.
For a movie that tries so hard to be epic, Benjamin Button fails on almost every front. In one particularly grueling sequence, the very nature of serendipity is plainly explained to the audience, removing any possible power the scene may have had. The worst part about that scene is that it's the only part of the movie shot the way it's shot, and that it is of no relevance to the bigger picture the movie tries to paint. Fincher probably just thought it would be something fun to try, so he tried it, and threw it into the movie. This is just one of numerous examples of the film's disjointed nature. The final product has its strong points, but they're so inundated in flaws that the whole is weaker than the sum of the parts.
This movie isn't bad in the same way that Adam Sandler flicks, romantic comedies, and sequels to horror remakes are bad. Instead, it's an overambitious mess that isn't executed all that well and that hangs its hat on its ostensibly epic nature and pulls out no tricks that we haven't seen done before and done better. 2008's Best Picture nominees, with the possible exception of Milk, were all so underwhelming that people tricked themselves into think Benjamin Button was a great movie. Hell, I definitely did. Having had two years to think about it, no one should be fooled anymore.
The Good: The makeup.
The Bad: The directorial execution.
The Skinny: Should not be on the list.