The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is David Fincher’s best work since Fight Club, and in the Madman’s opinion superior to the season’s other much-hyped contender Slumdog Millionaire. Watching it is a true cinematic experience, a sprawling adventure that hits all the cues you’re hoping from an epic while dodging the hackneyed red flags of oh, say, Australia. If anyone deserves accolades from this film, it is clearly Fincher — from a directorial perspective, it is virtuostically helmed. Fincher pulls an above-average performance from a usually spotty Brad Pitt (I like the guy, but c’mon — when your best role centers around taking bong hits out of a honey-bear, you know you’re not dealing with a Strasberg-trained heavyweight), who seems tailor-made for the role, what with his eternally youthful looks and understated acting style. He handles Button’s naivity like an old soul seeing life for the first time. Otherwise, the cast (Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormand, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton, etc) all contribute apt, if not great, performances.

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The only real nagging complaint I have with Benjamin Button is its uncanny resemblance to that other manchild-narrated 3-hour epic, Forrest Gump. Aside from obvious simiarties — both narrated by a naïve Southerner, both victims of unparalleled kismet, both sprawling epics tapping all significant historical touchstones — the entire plotline seems to heavily ape Mr. Gump’s. After getting home and using the mighty IMDb, I realized CCBB was written by Eric Roth, who also penned Forrest Gump, so that makes a little more sense… Or perhaps it makes even less sense. Roth seems to be repeating himself, or if not repeating himself than at least trying to refine his schtick. Case in point: Our protagonist falls for his childhood sweetheart who he becomes desperately, inexorably attached to. He then spends the entire movie trying to reunite with this True Love, to varying degrees of success. She befalls tragedy, and Our Hero is there to pick her up again. But then she leaves him. Again. Our Hero spends years wandering this crazy world trying to find himself (somehow grazing every major historical event along the way) before The Lovers are inevitably reunited once again. Someone dies. The end.

There is even a boat and hard-drinking Captain, and Blanchett’s character doing her best Captain-Dan-fits-of-harrowing-self-pity before her eventual sunset-lined redemption. Sound familiar?

I’m not entirely ripping on the movie, as with Gump it draws you into itself and makes you forget that 3 hours have passed — which is no easy feat. The set design, costumes, pacing, dialogue, acting and story are all excellent. But I couldn’t help shake the Dumbo-eared shadow of Forrest while watching this film, even as the telltale maxim is repeated: whereas Ms. Gump used to tell Forrest “Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get,” Ms. Button (actually it’s his adopted mom, but you get the idea) teaches “You never know what’s coming for you.” Ummm, really? You couldn’t dazzle us with any other truism there, Roth?

In the end though, CCBB is so meticulously executed that you forgive its lapses and take it for what it is: a touching winter epic, worthy of the price of admission (wellworn life lessons be damned). Which, I guess, is the point of the film: to take what this world gives you, and learning that how we ride this wave is what will defines us and our lives. Simple, yes, but curiously true nonetheless…


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