Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brief Thoughts on Benjamin Button

Much like a certain other nigh-on-three-hour epic released recently David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin is a great flawed film. It is indeed the sprawling film that it had been made out to be and I thought it was really great - some parts more than others - but as a whole it has issues. I felt some of the characterisations were poor. Taraji P Henson, so praised by many people, I felt was actually one of the weakest assett's to the movie. She was charming and funny, but take her out of the movie and there isn't much of a hole that needs filling. Her character of "Queenie" doesn't feel like she lives outside of the movie, unlike some of the other supporting characters played by the likes of Tilda Swinton and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali.

Brad Pitt is better here than I have found him to be recently and Cate Blanchett is luminescent throughout many of her scenes. Technically the film is a beautiful with Claudio Miranda's sublime cinematography, Alexandre Desplat's dreamy score and the astonishing visual effects work all helping pull the film together in moments of weakness and strength. The art direction and Jacqueline West's costume design, I think, are the film's biggest assets outside of the special effects, effectively recreating many different time periods and making it appear effortless. You can barely tell you're moving through the decades of time.

I think my major issue with the film, however, lies with Eric Roth's screenplay. By making the opening hour of the movie so curious (pun intended) with itself it sets the film's second half up - it is three hours long, remember - to be rushed. And while the final two hours glided by with ease, I would have actually preferred a bit less time spent on the early time of Benjamin's life and more as he navigates through the difficult younger years.

I did, however, cry and I will freely admit that. It's the first 2008 film in which I have actually shed tears. It certainly helps that I currently have a close family member going through a tough battle of dementia that made the final moments so hard to watch, but even earlier than these moments I found the film actually worked for my tears instead of merely expecting them.

I haven't mentioned the director David Fincher, which I find strange myself considering it feels so much like a director's film and yet... and yet... I don't know. What's there that is ostensibly Fincher? I'm not entirely sure. One thing I am very sure of is that Tilda Swinton has officially moved up into the echelon of my favourite actresses. I thought Swinton's Elizabeth Abbott was the film's highlight. The way she recites her dialogue and the way her face moves is utterly captivating in every possible way and through her brief scenes made the strongest impression out of everybody. B+ although it may go down to a B, depending on how it holds up in my mind.

Okay, maybe not so brief. What did you think if your country has been deemed worthy enough of seeing it?


pspeary said...

having now the film twice-- the first time I was very moved by parts of the film but found it overlong particularly in the tugboat sequences-- the second time I found it a wonderfully conhesive poetic tapestry with finely crafted threads running throughout in terms of imagery both visual and verbal-- wonderful use of Pitt, Blanchett,and Swinton in terms of both their skills and their cinematic presences-- a much more substantive film experience than the melodramatic SLUMDOG

Anonymous said...

I had just the opposite feelings. Only the tugboat section felt real, lived in. Blanchett was wonderful and I would have liked to seen more of her as a mother to Ben in his last years. My main reason as to why I feel it is a bit over hyped is Pitt's performance as the older/younger Ben. The weakest link in the film. In my mind, if you really want to see something moving seek out Milk, Rachel Getting Married, Slumdog, Wall-E and for the amazing Viola Davis, Doubt.

Paul Martin said...

I generally like Pitt, Blanchett and especially Fincher (Fight Club was once one of my favourite films for a long time). Something about this one, however, just doesn't work for me and I found it very disappointing.

I agree that it's the writing primarily that lets it down, but the directing is pretty uninspiring as well. There's just no tangible drama for me, nothing to suck me into the film's reality. I didn't feel for anyone, even though there were times that I felt I should.

I found myself dozing off more than a couple of times and the film is way too long. Too much time was spent on some parts of his life and too little on others. My brain kept doing subconscious calculations about time and who should be what age when. While I can't empirically describe inconsistencies (and I didn't want to focus on that while watching it), it seemed that the synchronisation didn't always add up. A small detail, but something that I mentally noted.

I also thought the film itself was curious and would lend itself through it's unusual premise to something that was much more dramatic. But it just wasn't very dramatic at all. In fact, no-one seemed to think very much of the phenomenon of Benjamin's state. This is the exact opposite of Tim Roth's character in Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth in which an elderly man struck by lightning and regains his youth is sought by competing powers (a little like Aronofsky's Pi).

The film does look nice, but after nearly three hours, I felt it was an awful lot of blandness. Visually unstimulating.

Ultimately, despite a potentially original premise, Fincher has produced a completely conventional story.

JackAttack said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The cinematography & period set design were excellent and yes Swinton was fantastic. Certainly is a tear-jerker... the ending is heart wrenching.


coffee fiend said...

Benjamin Button was very Fincher-esque... almost as good as his other stuff if not for some nagging plot holes

munzz said...

Titanic could explain the faith of this film, not the movie titanic, but the ship itself. A big production with a lot talent and big names behind it, but not being able to deliver its potentials; it didn't quite transfer its audience where it could have with all its promise and potential.

The film was beautifully shot, with amazing lighting and composition. The cinematography was the only thing that could keep one from falling asleep.

The premise of the film is of an unusual one, and it begged the question of how it was going to work. I personally thought that this could be a vehicle on delivering a very profound message on life and death. I thought it was going to touch on the absurdities of life and death and the reasons behind our existence. Or maybe touch on how one would appreciate his/her young hood much more if they aged backwards; because who can deny that a man with a young body and the wisdom of an old man could achieve anything that he wants to. But it didn't at all focus on those philosophies about life; instead it was about a very usual and at times boring love story, with all the clichés that we have all heard from our kindergarten teachers when we were 5.

The film seemed sappy and sentimental. The only times that it tried to have some sort of message on life and death it ended up being so cliché. Lines like: nothing lasts forever, everyone dies, no one is perfect, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us, etc… delivered no refreshing outlook on life. Normally movies tend to steal a few clichés and run with it in the hopes of not getting caught but it was surprising how the decision was made to put all those clichés in the film and still the film begged the audience to take it seriously.

There was no depth to the main character, Benjamin. In a character driven film like this, the main character's depth and complexity determines the depth and complexity of the film, without it the whole movie would fall flat as it did in this case. It was unclear what Benjamin liked in life, what his passion was, what were his hobbies, what made him happy, what made him sad, etc. his motivations were unclear.

At the end of the film, I wondered what his special condition of aging had to do with the film's message and its ultimate goal. I don't think the film would have been that much different if Benjamin was a normal person with no special condition but still went through the same journey. In other words, his special condition didn't add anything profound, as it could have; to the plot other than fooling the audience into thinking they are witnessing a very unique film.

The reason behind the film's relatively good reviews could be (beside the hype and Brad Pitt being in it) because the plot seemed interesting and unique enough to get someone to go and check it out. But after walking out of the theater I couldn't help but thinking that what a genius marketing strategy this was to generate all that enthusiasm about a film that delivered nothing new, and something so mediocre that could have been delivered by any other film that comes out on any Friday throughout the year.

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