Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormon, Elias Koteas, Jason Flemyng, Taraji P. Henson, Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Phyllis Somerville, Lance Nichols, Rampai Mohadi, Elle Fanning, Madisen Beaty
Written by: Eric Roth, based on a screen story by Robin Swicord & Eric Roth, and on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Directed by: David Fincher
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking
Running Time: 167
Date: 12/10/2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Button' Holes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Screenwriter Eric Roth adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story and somehow manages to inflate it into a nearly three-hour film. Brad Pitt stars as the title character, a poor soul who is born into a 70 year-old body and ages backwards. The film uses some astonishing makeup effects to make Pitt appear both older and younger than he really is (he's 45 this month) and I found myself looking forward more to the effects than to the story. Cate Blanchett co-stars as Daisy, his red-haired lover, whom he meets when she's a young girl, and who shares much of his life with him. The story is narrated from Benjamin's journal; Daisy is dying in a hospital -- during Hurricane Katrina of all things! -- and has her grown daughter (Julia Ormond) read it to her. Roth and director David Fincher play with lots of different ideas, such as a "spiritual hummingbird" that seems to appear when people die and a section in which Benjamin seems to know all about a sequence of events that lead up to a car accident. It's frankly all a bit too much, without the whimsy of something like Big Fish (2003), or the wit of Fitzgerald. Even Pitt seems to lose his way, doing a remarkable job of playing young while looking old, but unable to figure out how to play old while looking young. (The character is very passive, and perhaps not interesting to such an energetic actor.) The picture is generally well made, and evenly paced though it lacks the signature style of Fincher's earlier, darker films (Zodiac, Fight Club, etc.). Tilda Swinton provides some relief as one of Benjamin's interim lovers, but Taraji P. Henson steals the picture -- and injects some desperately needed emotional energy -- as Benjamin's surrogate mother.

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