The plot of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button might seem appropriate for a science fiction story than a regular family entertainer, which it actually is. David Fincher’s film establishes its own entity and, despite some minor flaws, it is riveting, intriguing and emotionally resonant.
The film takes us on a tour of the 20th century, even though it begins in the 21st. Opening in August 2005 in New Orleans, remember the carnage of Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the Louisiana city? Lying on her deathbed is 80-year Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who is being attended by her daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond). To pass the time, Caroline reads from the diary of a man named Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), whose life repeatedly intersected with and diverged from that of her mother. When there are gaps in the story, Daisy summons enough energy and breath to fill them in.
When Benjamin is born in 1918, he is an old man, in the size of a baby but afflicted with all of the problems of the aged. The birth kills Benjamin’s mother and, unable to cope with his son’s monstrous appearance, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) abandons him. Benjamin is found and raised by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). By the time he is five or six, he has grown enough to appear like a stooped old man of about 80. Here is the crazy part, with each passing year, he becomes younger. His path first crosses Daisy’s when he is 13 and he confesses to her that he is younger than he looks. She will become the love of his life, but it will be decades before they find each other.
For the most part, the quality of performance is of the highest quality, with supporting performers like Tilda Swinton, Jared Harris and Julia Ormond making the most of limited screen time. Cate Blanchett brings vibrancy and spirit to Daisy. Brad Pitt, however, lesser than expected. His portrayal is solid but lacks the extra element necessary to catapult it into greatness. The subtleties are completely missing and this may be the single element that could make it difficult for some to accept the movie.
There is no denying that this film’s power of compulsion comes in its full only in the end. That’s when you actually realize that this, seemingly circus-act like character, actually meant something with his life. The clock doesn’t run backwards for any of us. Seize the moment is what the movie has been trying to say all along.