Rated: PG-13 brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking Reviewed by: Frank Release date: December 25, 2008 Released by: Paramount Pictures Corporation and Warner Brothers
One of the finest benefits of movies is the ability to look back at memories not just in the mind of characters but openly and visually on the screen. Director David Fincher skillfully folds the decades from 1918 through 2003 smoothly together providing an atmosphere for the curious Benjamin to age in reverse. Filled with the look of cities as they change, cars, trains, rail cars all fitting perfectly into the background which Benjamin Button passes through.
This story based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald work allows us to look at life, love, aging and death from a creative different point of view. We view a life and it's emotions through a man who experiences the difficulties of the elderly during the first decades of life and the lost innocence of childhood at the end.
Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born wrinkled like an elephant, almost frightening to look at. That and the death at his birth of his biological mother are more than his father, Thomas (Jason Flemyng) who owns a button empire, can handle and he drops off the baby at an old age home with fifteen dollars and a dirty diaper. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) takes him in and as he says later when informed by Queenie who is his biological mother is, "you are my mother."
Perhaps Brat Pitt's best performance, aided by special effects he moves from the restrictions of a very old man in a wheel chair to crutches and limping, to a strong young man then to adolescence and childhood. The effects and make-up are important but his voice, movement and, expressions make his reverse life believable.
As Benjamin is born a blind clock maker puts together a clock for the rail station that runs backward, it is built with the hope of going back to resolve what he would like to change in the past. There is a hint that the clock is the catalyst for Benjamin's life but that connection is never fully made although there appears to be a parallel.
The direction and performances pull us in like gravity; it's not possible to look away from any scene even for a film that runs well over two hours. There is a little Forest Gump feel to some of the Benjamin's perceptions as he moves in the opposite way to everyone else, he also experiences a Graduate moment with Daisy (Cate Blanchett) who passes him by as she grows older and he heads for his twenties physically.
The relationship between Daisy and Benjamin is at the heart of the film. Initially he is an old man in a wheel chair while she is a little girl. Through time they grow into the same physical age. They become young lovers, friends and eventually we know she will hold him as an infant while she is an older woman.
Growing old is placed under a different lens - Benjamin understands a great deal by the time he reaches his youth. At a time when men are free, loose and willing to take chances he has the wisdom of sixty plus years and a mature love that allows him to think through the relationship and to know when it can not exist any longer.
While they are apart, he experience working on a fishing boat, driving an Indian motor cycle, traveling the world but each time returning to the home for the aged that his mom manages. His father eventually reaches out to him bringing him to a brothel and eventually handing him the button company which brings wealth and allows Benjamin income to travel.
How many times have we heard "if I only knew at sixteen what I know now - how different my life could be"? Benjamin Button knows all of sixty years of living before he reaches the physical existence of sixteen but he is traveling in the wrong direction to make use of it.
The screen play by Eric Roth travels a twisted world balancing human emotion with physical barriers. Daisy and Benjamin have a brief moment in time as lovers, but are never out of love with each other. Aging limits as we know them magnify the barriers which in the long run create a greater sense of a relationship which can only be fulfilled in a short period of time. They are like characters traveling in different dimensions that intersect only at one critical time.
Unlike the seven lightening strikes which are described periodically in the script, the warm relationship between this man and woman can not end equally and Daisy on her death bed must relay the story to her daughter (Julia Ormond) through Benjamin's written words. His words are the screen play which is beautifully presented by Eric Roth, and it brings to the screen some of the best performances of the year.
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