Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie meant to give the audiences the unique perspective of someone who ages in reverse as he goes through in life. There is no magic nor are there wizards; neither is it about biological warfare or bad DNA. It’s all drama about being born with a different deck of cards than people would normally get, and triumph in spite of it.

Hollywood pretty boy Brad Pitt shed his much loved looks (at least for half the film) as the lead, Benjamin Button, a man who ages backwards but ironically is better than most in going forward.

The man has charisma I must admit. He is a leading man even if just by looks alone, but as Benjamin Button, acting wise, Brad looks and sounds emotionally dead.

Its not that I expected much from Brad Pitt; I don’t. He was never exceptional but neither is he that lifeless. I think his lines were to blame; it was inadequate to give the part some respectability being the lead character. There was little opportunity and effort to express different emotions, and the result was that Benjamin looked unnaturally passive for all the exciting events he had in life.

I liked it better when Benjamin was narrating the movie which was styled as a flashback. What I would have liked was some difference between the narrating voice of Benjamin and scenes of him getting shot at by a U-boat. Intentionally or unintentionally, he just didn’t sound emotionally present.

Fortunately for a fly in the ointment Brad Pitt is a good looking fly. Viewers may not empathize too much when Benjamin was heartbroken, or when his loved one died; or when his tugboat was drawing fire from a U-boat, but he looked cool; and for that women will always be supportive. And like the actor, the character too had a great support of women in Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett as the love interest Daisy and Taraji P. Henson as the foster mother Queenie.

As an emotional anchor I think Queenie did much of the work even if she didn’t have that many scenes. If Benjamin seemed overly relaxed at the big and simple things in life, the mom was always full of emotion as any mother would. However short the scenes may be, the look of Queenie says it all.

Daisy, on the other hand, as the love interest is Benjamin’s woman in the latter part of his life. Romantically I am not sold, well it was close enough; and you can thank the more superb performance of Cate Blanchett for that. Like the mom I can always get a sense that she loved Benjamin; and from there everything else follows. She sets the emotional tone; the anchor for the second half of the film.

The screenplay was beautifully written though I wonder why Benjamin appeared too relaxed even emotionally invisible. Maybe it’s the director’s fault. The supporting cast, the rest of the production took up the slack which made me think sometimes the inadequacies of Benjamin were intentional. Maybe Cate Blanchett was meant to carry it all emotionally as she is a co-narrator of sorts. Or, the women were just too good that they overshadowed Brad.

In some ways The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is reminiscent of Forrest Gump minus an Oscar Best Actor award (Brad will never win for this one obviously if he ever gets nominated at all), less of the comedy; and none of the historical figures or historical events. The story gave the viewer the sense of completeness of one characters life; both of whom happened to have handicaps.

Benjamin’s life though had far less glamour than Forrest but I have to hand it to the writers for making the story just as compelling. You can also thank Brad Pitt’s charisma for that. Benjamin may not have had Forrest’s experience with Elvis or Kennedy or Apple Computers, but he had a great script and the looks. Put William H. Macy in there with same lines and I doubt it would have worked.

I’d recommend that you be fully rested before watching because the movie can be quite long with a lot of talk. But overall, I believe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will endear to audiences, and ok, the woman especially; because it shows what we all hope to be: a man, a human being, who in spite of everything that life has thrown, including aging backwards, can be anything in life and keep going forward.