Short story. Very long film.
Fight Club director David Fincher and Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth (Fight Club & Forrest Gump? Now, there’s a double bill!) have taken a whimsical tale by F Scott Fitzgerald of around 25 pages and inflated it into an epic two hour 45 minute thick-spine airport novel of a movie. That’s an awfully long time to spend in the company of a man whose only claim on our attention is that he lives his life in reverse.
The eponymous Benjamin Button, played throughout (most of) the movie by Brad Pitt – with the aid of lashings of industrial-strength make-up and CGI wizardry – is born resembling an old man of 80 in New Orleans on Armistice night in 1918. But, while his nearest and dearest grow older, Benjamin ages backwards, becoming steadily less wrinkly until he corresponds to Brad in his prime, after which he progresses through adolescence and childhood before ending his life as an infant.
As a technical feat, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a tour de force. Sticking Brad’s head onto a series of different bodies – to represent Benjamin at different stages of his life – must have been fiendishly difficult, but Fincher and co pull it off handsomely. More than handsomely: the movie looks ravishing from start to finish.
Yet strip away all the classy art direction and CGI trickery, and the story is a bit of a snooze. It’s supposed to be tragic that Benjamin and the great love of his life, Daisy, whom he meets when she’s a child and he looks around 70, are ageing in opposite directions, but when their respective chronologies do more or less overlap and they finally get it together (with the adult Daisy played by Cate Blanchett) their romance doesn’t leave you swooning.
Things perk up while Tilda Swinton is on screen, playing the worldly wry British diplomat’s wife with whom Benjamin, by now a tugboat sailor, has an affair in 1930s Murmansk. But despite Fincher and Roth’s efforts to craft a weighty meditation on time and ageing, love and loss, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button fails to go deeper than its dazzling surface. (Released 6th February)