Like its title this is a curious film, indeed. When you hear the premise of the story about a man who ages backwards (born as an old man who gets younger as time goes on) you wonder how director David Fincher (Zodiac, Panic Room) would pull this off. It would take some kind of talent to make us not laugh at a story like this. If Fincher is able to pull off this tall order it would cement him as one of the best directors working in film today. Not only does Fincher succeed, but he is able to create a moving and technically amazing film.
The city of New Orleans is hit by the brute force of Hurricane Katrina. The very aged Daisy Williams (Cate Blanchett) is on her deathbed at a hospital. Her grown daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond – Chocolat, The English Patient), is at her side and reads from the diary of her lifelong friend Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt). The diary tells the extraordinary story of Benjamin’s life.
At birth Benjamin is diagnosed with several aging diseases. He will spend his life aging backwards – going from an old man to a child. He is abandoned by his father and his mother dies during childbirth. Not given any chance of survival, Benjamin is raised by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson), a black woman who works at a seniors home.
Daisy’s grandmother is at the seniors home and she first meets Benjamin as a child. Although they are separated by age Daisy and Benjamin remain lifelong friends. They finally are able to really connect when they are both in their 40s. A romance ensues. They both know that the romance cannot last as they are aging in different directions, but try to make the most of every moment they have been given.
A theme that hits home time and time again in this film is that age is simply a number. We choose the life we live and age does not have to affect that. We examine life, our choices and how we live. Fundamental questions and concepts that are made quite palatable by Fincher and his actors.
Brad Pitt (Seven, Snatch) plays the title role of Benjamin Button and uses all the likeability he has earned over the years. Though he was nominated for this year’s Best Actor Academy Award he really does not have much to do in the film. He, like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, just has to make the viewer like him and care what happens to this strange character. He probably does more narration than he does have actual lines in the film. When it comes to acting I was more impressed with the always wonderful Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and the remarkable (and also nominated) Taraji P. Henson (Smokin’ Aces, Hustle & Flow). Blanchett portrays a complex character with seeming ease and Henson just exudes warmth and love.
To make this film work Fincher had to make us believe that this was possible. He is able to do that with his deft touch and technical prowess. This reality is kept while at the same time the magic of the story remains. The balance remains. We cheer for the love between Benjamin and Daisy despite their ages. A different sort of romance that has us cheering for it all along.
The only downside of the film is its very long runtime. It clocks in at just under 3 hours. But the long ride is definitely worth it in the end.
David Fincher’s fine film is now streaming on Tubi.