Pitt doesn’t grow old, but ‘Button’ just fades away

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, December 24, 2008 2:23pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Eric Roth won an Oscar for writing “Forrest Gump,” which has led many to suppose that his latest script, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” would be a similarly sentimental affair.

But this doesn’t factor in the icy fingers of director David Fincher, the technical wizard behind “Zodiac” and “Fight Club.” The combination of those two, plus the impassive presence of Brad Pitt, makes for a curious movie experience indeed.

The film is based on a minor F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who lives life in reverse: born as an elderly baby, he moves toward youth as the years go by. Roth uses that premise very loosely; the film also resembles a recent novel, “The Confessions of Max Tivoli,” on a similar idea.

When Benjamin is born in New Orleans in 1918, his body is baby-sized, but wrinkled and infirm. Abandoned by his father to a caretaker (Taraji P. Henson), Benjamin discovers that he gets younger and fitter as life goes on.

Through at least the first hour of this 160-minute movie, the technical trick of morphing Brad Pitt’s head onto a small person’s body is a constant source of astonishment. (It’s some combination of small body doubles and makeup and digital sleight-of-hand — I don’t want to know how they did it, the illusion is so seamless.)

It could be argued that this trick actually distracts from the movie’s main themes. Maybe, although Fincher’s ability to work up a “how did they do that?” sense of wonder is worth something in itself.

At some point, “Benjamin Button” decides to make itself a love story, settling on Benjamin’s romance with a young dancer named Daisy (Cate Blanchett). They pass each other through life, of course: As she ages, he enters a new period of youth.

The strangest turn in the movie puts Benjamin mostly offscreen for his later years, when Daisy occupies center stage for a while. This enhances the love story and explains an elaborate framing device, but it takes us away from the interesting dilemma of someone facing young manhood with the wisdom of age.

The romance itself has some lovely things about it, and even better is a self-contained section with Benjamin (who goes to sea in his youth — in other words, when he looks about 60) sharing a liaison with a bored wife (Tilda Swinton) in Russia.

Even though Brad Pitt remains an inexpressive actor, in some ways he’s right for this role: Benjamin is someone whose circumstances have shaped him, rather than the other way around. Pitt passes through the film with the hazy distance of a “watcher” — although he does bring some vinegar to the early scenes as an elderly man. Maybe when he’s 70 he’ll be a great actor.

As ambitious and handsome as the film is, it doesn’t become more than a collection of scenes, nor does it come to a conclusion about the unusual gift its hero has been given. It simply rises and falls, like the life it doesn’t fully explore.

Talk to us

More in Life

Josh Haazard Stands inside his workspace, the HaazLab, where he creates a variety of cosplay props and other creative gadgets, on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, at his home in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
This contraption crafter turns junk into sci-fi weaponry

Joshamee “The Chief” Haazard is a costume prop maker in Monroe. He transforms trash into treasure.

Shawn McQuiller of Kool & The Gang performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, on Sunday, May 8, 2022, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Kool & The Gang and Average White Band are coming soon to a casino near you. Queensryche also is due in Arlington.

For your kids’ sake, stress less about their grades this school year

Don’t make a big deal over grades. Instead, encourage out-of-classroom activities and remember, learning is supposed to be fun.

At the prehistoric fortress of Dun Aengus, the dramatic west cliffs of Ireland meet the turbulent sea as Europe comes to an abrupt end. (Rick Steves' Europe)
Enjoy the simple life on Ireland’s starkly beautiful Aran Islands

Three limestone islands make up the Aran Islands: Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer.

American Queen changes COVID protocols; can I get a refund?

fter American Queen changes its COVID protocols, Patricia Voorhees Furlong and her husband want to skip their river cruise. Is that allowed? Or, will they lose out on $7,858?

Preston Brust, left, and Chris Lucas of LOCASH perform during CMA Fest 2022 on Thursday, June 8, 2022, at the Chevy Riverfront Stage in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

The country music duo Locash drops by the Angel of the Winds Casino on Saturday. And there’s the Summer Meltdown festival at its new home near Snohomish all weekend.

‘Poco Orange’ Red Hot Poker. (Terra Nova Nurseries)
Warmer weather means brighter, hotter colors in the garden

Here are seven plants that will bring a blazing pop of color to your outdoor spaces.

The 2022 Lexus GX has a 301-horsepower V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, and full time all-wheel drive. (Lexus)
Updated 2022 Lexus GX 460 expands list of standard features

Navigation and a 10.3-inch multimedia system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are included.

Bruce Johnson has an exhibit on the history of clowns at the Lynnwood Library in Lynnwood, Washington on August 11, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Clown historian takes the funny business very seriously

Bruce Johnson, a.k.a “Charlie the Juggling Clown,” wants to pass his craft down to future generations.

Most Read