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Pitt Shines in “A Curious Case”

Shane Steinburg | Monday, January 19, 2009

Writer Eric Roth’s loose adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wildly imaginative short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, is a grand epic that sees its star, Brad Pitt, give the hands-down best performance of his career.Director David Fincher’s keen directing not only captures but expands on the wonder of Fitzgerald’s story. Yet the true success here is the life both Fincher and Pitt breathe into the film’s title character, the backwards-aging Benjamin Button.Told from a hospital room where Benjamin’s old love interest, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), is dying, Benjamin’s sweeping story begins with a tale about a once-famous clockmaker whose grand creation turns out to be a clock that is only capable of working backwards. He explains that his son was killed in WWI and that the clock is an expression of his desire that time may run backwards so that his boy would come back to him. This opening introduces the film’s obsession with time running backward. Man’s desire to cheat death and hold onto the love in his life is contrasted with the passing of all things.Benjamin is born a decrepit baby who quickly grows into a failing man in his 80’s with poor eyesight, arthritis, and a rasp, aged voice. His father (Jason Flemyng), shocked by the birth, abandons the child, and leaves him on a doorstep, where a maternal black woman, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) takes him in and raises him as her own. He soon adapts to life growing up among the old, forgotten people who also inhabit the home, until one day, he meets a young girl, Daisy, who sees past his condition and all the way to the core of his youthfulness. Although many obstacles separate the two star-crossed lovers, such as Benjamin’s service in WWII, his affair with an English spy’s wife (Tilda Swinton), and Daisy’s pursuit of a career in ballet, Benjamin and Daisy inevitably find each other in the middle of their respective lives. But just as time unites them, so it undoes them. Yet the love remains, even until the very end, when Daisy, old but still able, takes care of an infant-looking Benjamin, until his eyes simply close, and his journey has ended.Benjamin, as portrayed in old age by the film’s talented CGI team, and by Pitt throughout the rest of the film, is a beautifully poignant character who stands as a hymn to life’s many angles, all of which are as much mysterious as they are grand.Although it’s a tad too long, at 166-minutes, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a roaring crowd-pleaser. Fincher and Roth somehow manage to adapt this imaginative piece and expound on it by shooting it through romance-infused veins. Whereas Fitzgerald’s story is driven by the premise of a child born under curious circumstances, the true success here is that the movie pushes his condition to the backseat and instead focuses on the curiosities that are life, death, and love.