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February 06, 2009
Vol. 50 No. 14

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'Benjamin Button' fails with character development

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a surprising film from director David Fincher, whose impressive resume highlights consist namely of brooding crime thrillers such as "Zodiac" and "Se7en."

In what could be one of the most anticipated films of the year, Fincher trades his serial killings for magical realism and a man named Benjamin Button, who ages in reverse.

The fantastical premise comes from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name. Screenwriter Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") attempts a daunting task in telling a tale of a man born with the body of a 90-year-old, complete with arthritis and a slew of other age-related problems.

The already ancient Button is abandoned at a retirement home by his father, where he grows younger and younger.

Benjamin, still an old man, eventually falls in love with a young girl named Daisy and as she gets older, he continues to get younger. How perfect.

The central problem with "Button" is that the character is, an essence, an empty husk who is almost entirely defined by his weird medical condition and his incessant pining for Daisy.

Brad Pitt, reunited with the director for a third time ("Se7en," "Fight Club"), plays Button.

The casting directors got this role spot on-who better among today's A-list actors to play an empty husk?

Cate Blanchett was less well-suited to the role of Daisy- expecting her to convincingly portray a character half her age was too much for even this Oscar-winning actress.

Furthermore, the protagonist's lack of any dimension paired with an exorbitant two and half hour running time made me feel like I was watching "Return of the King," except this time Gandalf is super boring and eventually turns into a little boy.

Also, there are no Orcs.

Cinematically, however, "Button" is in a category of its own.

The saturation of the lighting is an unmistakable Fincher trademark, and it is visually enjoyable to watch the film.

Pitt's make-up is very convincing and the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is very seamlessly integrated, which is increasingly rare nowadays.

The look and feel of each time period from Button's birth in 1918 until the present day was also expertly done, not always easy to do in a film covering a time span of almost a century.

Ultimately, the film's attempt at meaningful social commentary, with its message that age does not dictate how you feel, does not mask the fact that it is just a fairly mediocre movie that operates under the guise of a modern masterpiece.

Fincher should have remembered that the film was based off of Fitzgerald's shortest and weakest short story, which provides very little fodder for a three-hour feature film. Some scenes were too long; some scenes were just superfluous and should simply have been cut; and the central plot focus, Daisy and Ben's love, leaves viewers with one important question that remains unanswered: Why did they fall in love in the first place?

Despite the Oscar buzz, the film's length and other shortcomings lead me to recommend that you wait to rent the DVD if you feel like you have to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

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