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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A local watch maker is commissioned to make a clock for railway station. In memory of his son, who was killed in battle during World War One, he shocks the townsfolk by erecting a clock that ticks backwards, in the vain hope that he could turn back time and bring back his son.
At the very same moment, a baby is born – and abandoned on the steps of a local old-age home. There’ll be someone to care for it there, right?
The baby is taken in by Queenie (Henson), the young black carer, who lives in a dingy room in the basement.
When Queenie unwraps the swaddling, to inspect what she’s found, she can see something’s not right. She rushes him straight upstairs to a doctor, who concludes that the baby is inflicted with a whole range of conditions usually associated with extreme old age – including wrinkly skin and brittle bones. His diagnosis: this baby is heading for an early grave.
But far from it – the baby lives – and the longer he lives, the younger he becomes physically – growing in height, as his wrinkles fade, his eyesight improves, he replaces his wheelchair with crutches and his hair grows back and regains its colour.
Initially, he blends in well with the old-age home residents, but he’s a child at heart and falls for seven year old Daisy (Fanning). But to the outside world, an elderly man can’t hang around with a young girl. When he’s old enough – and fit enough – to look after himself, Benjamin (Pitt) leaves home to work where no-one knows him – where no-one will ask questions.
He gets a job as a fisherman and soon finds his boat assisting in the war effort.
On his return from war, he and Daisy are the right age to be together, but she’ll get older, while he’s destined to get younger
Benjamin knows that this is not a relationship that can last.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

At it’s heart, this film is a tragic love story – something we so often see in Hollywood – and perhaps in real life – a couple, meant to be together, but cruelly kept apart by fate.
In this case, the fate is a fascinating plot device which works tremendously well at the start, but is less convincing towards the end of his life. His growing and straightening in stature as he ages backwards is surprisingly coherent, but as he forgets how to walk and talk, physically, the conceit breaks down.
Pitt turns in a Oscar-nominated performance – justifiably – as he confronts every age of man in one muxed-ip character.
Taraji P Henson, as his mother, also finds herself for a statuette, like Pitt, succeeding in playing a wide range of ages believably. In her case, make-up is the key – for him, some of the most innovative effects in modern cinema are put to use so convincingly that you immediately forget that Brad Pitt isn’t a five foot tall, elderly man.
Perhaps the biggest failing of the film – more than the disappointing portrayal of the ‘aging’ Benjamin is the fact that while the fairy-tale conceit around which the story hangs is fascinating and thought provoking, once it’s set up, the rest of the film can be plotted too simply – he gets younger, while everyone else gets older – that’s it – and all its consequences are there for all to predict.
There’s only one thing that can happen – there’s only ever one direction this film can go in – and in that sense – it’s a long time to watch the same movie to end up at the exact point you predicted you would two hours earlier.
By wrapping the story in a third-party narrative, the film-makers try to give the film a little more unpredictability, but even this isn’t too hard to see through.
It’s a thoroughly imaginative but not especially satisfying extravaganza, with special effects that are so good, you don’t even realise they’re special effects. It’s an admirable confection that leaves a slightly sour aftertaste.

Opens nationwide 6th February 2009

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