Thursday, January 8, 2009

Three Hours Well Spent

Last night, Katie, Amanda and I went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

We all loved it.

Yes, it's long - coming in right around three hours - but the story moves well. It does get a bit draggy in the middle, but we only noticed that because all three of us were tired anyway.

The movie has just a little bit of a Forrest Gump feel to it as the backwards-aging Benjamin makes his way through history - although Benjamin isn't so much influencing the events around him (like Forrest did) as the events are influencing him.

The film's funniest moments come in the first hour or so, when Benjamin is a young boy trapped in an old man's body. Benjamin has been taken in as a baby by a black woman who runs a sort of nursing home - so appearance-wise, Benjamin fits right in with the other boarders.

You don't see Benjamin go to school or receive any sort of formal education, but since he looks like an adult, people speak to him and treat him as such and he gleams his education from those interactions and his own experiences.

The film boasts not one but two great actresses - the always-spectacular Cate Blanchett (a favorite of mine since Elizabeth - Cate Blanchett can do no wrong in my mind) and, in a small but pivotal role, the chameleon Tilda Swinton (right) as Benjamin Button's first real love.

Slight digression -Tilda Swinton never ceases to amaze me with the way she completely morhps into drastically different characters in every movie she appears in - the commanding White Witch in the Narnia movies, a tortured corporate attorney in Michael Clayton, and the bored socialite wife of a dignitary in Button. Most of these characters don't require appearance-altering makeup or effects - Tilda Swinton is a good enough actress to embody them without it.

That tangent is not meant to discount Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's performances, which are necessarily enhanced with makeup and effects (Tilda Swinton really only appears in one period of the movie). I don't know that anyone has a more captivating presence than Cate Blanchett playing the mid-twenties/early-thirties version of her character - the porcelain skin, the red hair, and that arresting expression...seriously, that woman has the most amazing bone structure in her face. You literally can not stop looking at her.

As for Brad Pitt - I've always thought he was a good actor who only occasionally gets sidelined by stupid pretty-boy roles (Meet Joe Black and Troy, anyone?) He's in fine form in Benjamin Button, acting through his makeup and not relying on it. And if you want to see a tortured, soulful expression, well, just wait for Brad to age backwards into his forties/thirties and you'll get it (the fifties-era costumes - white t-shirts and sunglasses - don't hurt him, either).

Of course, the whole movie does sort of have a cloud of inevitable sadness hanging over it, as you know that there is only one possible outcome in the end. But you almost forget about that in the beginning as it first begins to seem a miracle that the shriveled little old man-boy's legs get strong enough to walk, and then he gets taller...the subtle progression into the younger Pitt is handled so carefully you can buy how it would seem natural to a real-life observer. That is, until he starts to get into his early sixties/late fifties and it starts becoming painfully obvious that he is in fact aging backward rather than simply getting stronger in his current condition.

Benjamin Button is probably not a movie for everyone, but I was completely entranced by it. I hope you'll give it a chance and check it out.


Becky said...

I liked the movie, but I really hated the way they decided to tell it with the diary reading. It seems like he could have narrated his own life from the afterlife or something and they wouldn't have had to keep cutting back to the diary reader and disrupting the flow of the story. Plus the "big reveal" to the diary reader was also predictable and unnecessary. Oh, and you got hints about problems between her and her mother but never any resolution or explaination to those, which irked me.

Plus I was irked that they tossed Hurricane Katrina in there for no apparent reason.

Amy W. said...

Yeah, I am kind of choosing to ignore the whole framing it with the diary thing.