Note: This review is in reverse order. Each paragraph is structured the regular way, just the order is reversed. So the last paragraph is the first, the second last is the second and so on. Start reading from the last paragraph and make your way upwards. Why did I do this? Scroll down and find out.
Benjamin Button the film is a good film, but not a great one. The crux of that is Benjamin Button the character as portrayed on screen. If this was a story of anyone as interesting as the rest of the characters, the film would have been a masterpiece. As it stands right now, this is an enjoyable movie that is just a few notches short of brilliance, which as we saw was all the difference come Oscar time.
Just by virtue of these wisps of real stories and the fantastic technical work done, the film takes your breath away. It looks magnificently mounted, and it is not all cold technology. There is genuine emotion being invested in each frame of the film. There is much to admire here, but also full and great moments of real joy. I admire, even respect, the movie for what it is, but I cannot bring myself to love it.
The rest of the cast too is fantastic. Taraji P. Henson is glorious as a maternal figure to Benjamin, and the shades she brings to the film with her subtly handled love with Tizzy (the wonderfully named Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) are far more alive than the main love story in the film. Tilda Swinton as the brief love affair outshines and outsmarts Pitt at every moment, compelling you to watch her at all times. Each character at the edge of the main story is interesting, and far more worthy of our attention than the main one.
Being as he spends much of his life in the retirement home, Button does not come across as having journeyed through life, which is a pitfall for the script, as nothing about him remains interesting. On the other hand Daisy is the anchor of the film, and if she was to instead remain a constant with a man mysteriously coming in and out of her life, it would have been a much more compelling watch.
The love story at the heart of the film is even more damaging to Pitt's character. Not because of the story itself, but because of Cate Blanchett. Blanchett is remarkable in completely the opposite way of Pitt. She plays her role with an undercurrent of being full of life. At any point there are multiple facets to her character, all evident simply the way this fine actress approaches her role. She feels full of zest and reality and someone who has seen the world.
While he doesn't meet famous people at every turn, he does live his life living moments of history all his life. Unlike Gump, though, Button also does not appear to be acting out of his own will to try and take control of the events of his own life. Button is a drifter of life. While he remains grounded in the same retirement home for a long time, internalizing more and more, he does not at all stick to his own life. He is motivated by nothing, doing nothing, just letting others make his decisions for him.
It's natural to some extent, but it is hardly the stuff film legends are made of. A cipher of a character at the centre of it all cannot successfully lead us through the movie, and doesn't. The film is written by Eric Roth, who had written Forrest Gump, which is understandable, really. Just like Forrest Gump had no shades as a character, but reacted to what happened around him, so does Button.
His tale takes interesting turns as he meets Daisy again, but the character as envisioned by Fincher and Pitt is so calm - too calm if you ask me - that as Button gets younger, he gets less and less interesting. The character as Pitt plays him is such a stoic man, and with nearly zero presence - which is natural considering he has learnt how to stay away from the public eye - that it fails to hook you into the film.
Soon, he heads out to sea to make his fortune. While he is still a late teen boy, his old body doesn't get too much attention or serve a purpose. He is asked if he is too old to be doing this, to which he explains that there exists no age limit, after which this is just an old-looking man on a towboat. Things get better as Pitt is branched from the special effects, but even then not so much.
However, as a child in a frail, physically weak body, there isn't much difference between the young Button and other, real children in frail bodies. As he gets older, he gets better physically, but the film never really explores that thematically at all. It is just a simple straight tale of a man's life. As he gets slightly older he meets Daisy, the film's heart and also Button's one true love.
This is interesting only for a short while. This is a visual spectacle, and wonder - the film treating this as such - something akin to a circus freak show. We are meant to look, gape and wonder at it, but not connect with the human at all. Benjamin Button is abandoned by his real father at a retirement home to be raised among the old people. These scenes are a masterclass in film design. The 1930s New Orleans is immaculately detailed and richly textured. Using actual actors to play the old parts and then juxtaposing Pitt's face onto them, David Fincher has managed a technological feat that leaves us breathless.
As an old man, the character is no different than a small child with a physical ailment. His mind isn't old; his is a child's naivetÃ© in an old man's body. By the time he gets to being a wise old man in a young body, he should have been unstoppable with the wisdom he had accumulated over the years. However, not much time is spent on that part of the narrative at all, the film instead choosing to spend a lot of time showing him as a child in a frail old man's body.
As Benjamin Button, the titular character of the curious case, Brad Pitt ages backwards. This much we all know, and in fact all I knew while getting into the cinema theatre. Having watched this film without once feeling bored as a lot of people claim to be, I can safely say that this is a well-crafted film. At the same time, I failed to see the point. As pointless as me writing this review backwards is the film's gimmick of Pitt aging backwards.