Benjamin Button: World Exclusive
Posted on Friday November 21, 2008, 17:06 by Nev Pierce in Empire States
The first word on David Fincher's latest masterpiece...
You probably shouldn't read this.
You should probably cocoon yourself, avoid speculations or declarations and queue for a ticket on Christmas Day (US) or 22 January (UK), when David Fincher's The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button will be birthed into the wider world.
You should probably show some self-discipline.
But, you know, we don't always do what we should.
Still, if you want a pure experience, go away.
If you want a brief reassurance that your money and time and expectations won't be wasted, know this: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is brilliant and beautiful and beguiling and any other adulatory adjective you can chuck at a movie. Now go away.
Daisy (Cate Blanchett) is dying. Lying in a New Orleans hospital that's being lashed by nature - Hurricane Katrina is squalling outside - she takes shallow breaths and tells her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond), of a hand-crafted clock created by Mr Gateaux (Elias Koteas). A timepiece designed to run in reverse, it hangs in a grand train station as a hope that the boys who died in World War One might come back, wounds healed, dreams resuscitated...
It's a curious clock, a curious beginning: the film flecked and faded, its element eaten away by time... until Caroline begins to read from a journal, the Last Will and Testament of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), her voice segues into his and a life story unspools, as visually pristine as it is emotionally exhausting.
Benjamin is born "under unusual circumstances", as the New Orleans sky fizzes with fireworks celebrating the end of the Great War and his mother dies bloodied on her bed. The "boy" is geriatric: body worn out, face like a punctured football. His distraught father (Jason Flemyng) abandons him outside a rest home, where he is discovered by the matron, Queenie (Taraji P Henson), and raised with the belief he is on the brink of death. Yet as everyone else wastes away, he grows stronger, younger. He is an old man with the mentality of a child - playing with toy soldiers, making friends with the granddaughter, Daisy, of another resident - and as much as Death is taken for granted, it is not his time yet. Benjamin Button has a lot more living to do...
And that is enough - perhaps far too much - detail for now... Benjamin travels, grows, loves, loses, sees the world first through fresh eyes in a faded body, then through peepers deepened by experience yet a body rejuvenated - skin hydrated, muscles built up, blessed now with youth and beauty and looking, let's face it, a lot like Brad Pitt.
Pitt's is a performance so good it could go unnoticed: subtle and seamless and gloriously free from any actorly pretention, any obsequiousness. It could easily be underappreciated amid the sure-to-come hyperbole (here, for starters) about the picture's digitally-aided aging. And ok, the effects are extraordinary - you see Pitt as a pensioner and then as a young buck, as vital and offensively good looking as he was in Thelma & Louise.
Yet the effect would fall flat were it not founded on his performance - it is his features that express Benjamin in each age: his eyes that show the man's wit and tenderness, soul and sorrow. The picture takes a long time to reach its sweet spot, the moment where Benjamin and Daisy (Cate Blanchett) can be together, but the long build makes the sequence all the more exhilarating - and heart-breaking.
For, yes, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button may well make your eyes leak. But, you know, so can Lethal Weapon if you've had a bad day... In this regard, Fincher's achievement is not just that the film moves you but that it does so without being cloyingly sentimental.
To credit him is not to diminish Eric Roth's screenplay - which is a triumph of imagination and expansion, giving substance to themes the F Scott Fitzgerald source story only, at best, hinted at, and soul to characters who were ciphers. But with a needy director, even a fine script can become syrupy vomit.
That potential has always been there with this material - for a film that begs for your affections, that is desperate to ingratiate. This is why the director of Se7en and Fight Club was considered, in some quarters, a curious fit. But it is why he is perfect for it. Instead of crassly manipulating your emotions, Fincher exercises his usual scrupulous control, creating a real world for this ridiculous conceit, ensuring the high concept does not dwarf the people.
And while the film can be tagged a romantic fable, it takes in more than that suggests - it has a globe-spanning, epic scope, journeying from Russian to India, through World War Two (in an awesome sea battle); taking on cultural shifts, the growth of a country as well as a man. It has a depth and grace to it you could barely anticipate.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button makes you consider the world anew... at least for a moment (but probably for a lot longer). It is about love, yes, and it is about Death: an event as inevitable as the rising of the sun, as the turning of the Earth. To be, perhaps, schmaltzy - in a way the film would never countenance - it says the grave need not triumph over your day today... Grasp the now. Live in each moment. Take a hand and hold it.
"You met me at a very strange time in my life."
Tock-tick tock-tick tock-tick tock-tick tock-tick...
Now go away.
Posted on Friday November 21, 2008, 20:52
i cant wait for this film im a massive fan of fincher and i think that man is a genius and although this is a much gentler film for him to make and i got a high hope this'll kick ass
Posted on Friday November 21, 2008, 21:24
Damn, if I wasn't excited before, I surely am now. Words cannot begin to describe the awesome seriousness (or is that serious awesomness?) that this film will turn out to be. Having feared that a love story might turn Fincher sentimental, it is with happiness I read that I have been mistaken all along (which, in retrospect, was not so surprising).
I will probably have to wait a little longer than Christmas Day, though, seeing as films in Norway tend to... you know, come at a later period than the USA and UK. Perhaps, for once, we should get it first this time? Just this once?
Posted on Friday November 21, 2008, 22:42
So it was good then yeah?
Holy shit I am excited about this, Zodiac is standing as one of my favourite films of the decade at this point and I can't wait to see this and put it on that list too.
Nev, you lucky lucky bastard lol.
Posted on Saturday November 22, 2008, 12:26
Didn't bother reading all of this, but it looks like a great film. Wait, didn't Nev Pierce write for Total Film?
Posted on Saturday November 22, 2008, 16:34
Like badassmofo said, Zodiac is certainly one of the best films of 2007 (it's a chame it was forgotten in all the film awards around the world, witch proves Venice, Berlim and Hollywood sometimes are not focus). Fight Club is on my top ten. Seven and Panic Room are excelent movies. If Fincher continues this path he will be one of the greatest in Film History. I love Fincher, and I'm very excited about this one. Thank you Empire for making our (film lovers) live better with your excelente site and magazine.
Posted on Saturday November 22, 2008, 18:20
yay! read the first bit, just enough to hear that it's brilliant, and i think i will now wait and bar myself from reading any more, but i am now a tiny bit more hyped about this (it's getting very difficult to get any more hyped than i already am)
Fincher is certainly looking to set himself out as one of the greatest directors.
and Brad Pitt continues to star in numerous superb productions so yay for him too.
Posted on Saturday November 22, 2008, 21:13
Absolutely love Fincher, Se7en is my favourite but Zodiac would be close behind, Fight has dropped sown to no 3 for me now in the light of Zodiac, Game is underrated and Alien 3 the assembley cut is a more satisfying experience than Cameron's brilliant but inevitably overrated action fest.
Fincher seems to be evolving and Zodiac showed a new string to his bow. I had a feeling he wouldn't have attached himself to something sentimental and cheesy, it seems Fincher has done it again. I have had great respect for Pitt since Se7en and he's as charismatic has hell in Fight Club. many can't see past his looks but at last it seems will have to notice now.
When I saw the wondrous trailer I thought this is what Zemeckis & hanks would have loved Forrest Gump could have been instead of the sickly sweet cheesy pap it was.
Can't bloody wait!
Posted on Monday November 24, 2008, 09:28
I was intrigued when I first read the premise, and it is becoming more of a box-office certainty for me personally every time I hear something new about it.
I think Pitt will be good, he seems to be moving away from the cocky young star of the Ocean's films (of which only 11 and 13 exist, no arguments) and the dire Mr and Mrs Smith to parts where he takes himself a little less seriously, such as in Burn After Reading, which I thought he was the funniest part of, save possibly the ever-hilarious J.K. Simmons.
I'll be dragging myself down to the cinema in the new year for this one, as soon as my exciting work placements are done anyway...
Posted on Monday November 24, 2008, 09:55
This is gonna be so good... Fincher is a genius and Pitt and Blanchett are amazing performers. I hope it doesn't take long for this film to be released in Portugal.
Posted on Monday November 24, 2008, 12:46
wow - not heard of this until reading this blog....sounds intertesting and very innovative...
but let's hope they get someone a little more objective to write the review!
Posted on Monday November 24, 2008, 23:49
I have benn tracking this film for a long time now and fincher is just a genius in his craft.
This quite frankly has got oscar written all over it for everyone involved from direction, acting and screenplay.
Unfortunately this means that DiCaprio is probably goimg to miss out on an oscar again if not to pitt then to benicio del toro for his portrayl of che guevara.
I also think this oscars will see a passing of the torch in film direction as fincher and eastwood will be the forerunners for benjamin button and changeling respectively.