Brad Pitt is an uneven actor at best. For every A River Runs Through It there’s a Meet Joe Black, three hours of my life I desperately wanted back when the credits rolled.
But maybe fatherhood and expressing his generous side through his partnership with Angelina Jolie have given him depth and layers because he is excellent in the title role of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Awe inspiring make-up and special effects don’t hurt the cause, either. This film has Oscar bait written all over it.
Benjamin Button is based on a 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A baby is born as a creaky old man and over his lifetime grows younger while those he love get older. He’s one seriously ugly baby, abandoned by his distraught father after his mother dies in childbirth and taken in by a sweet, loving black woman named Queenie who can’t bear to see “one of God’s children” suffer. We’re spared a lot of melodrama about Benjamin’s condition through the attitude of Queenie, who refuses to let her boy feel sorry for himself. By age 17 he looks 60 but unlike the rest of us whose aches and complaints increase with time, Benjamin finds himself limbering up and becoming awfully attractive as he “ages”.
He finds a great love, in the lithe and lovely form of Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett, but a finite amount of time during which they can be lovers before she gets too old and he gets too young. The film has a Forrest Gump feel to it in places as Benjamin experiences several real life events such as the Great War. Its cinematographer and make-up artists should both be handed Oscars outright for creating the look and feel of yesteryear.
Daisy is deeply concerned about aging because Benjamin is losing his facial lines while she’s gaining hers. There’s an undercurrent of knowledge that time is slipping away, more so for them than even for the rest of us. The movie is all about time, actually; time marching forward, backward and how there’s never enough of it no matter which way the clock turns.
Benjamin Button is full of wonderful performances including Julia Ormond as Daisy’s daughter who’s discovering truths about her life her Mom never shared. Blanchett and Pitt are riveting and wonderful and for once, lingering shots of Pitt’s face seem necessary, instead of gratuitous, as we explore his reversal of the aging process. Through special effects, the Thelma And Louise era Pitt actually appears at one point. It’s stunning.
Benjamin Button left me with a heart heavy on the realities of mortality and light on the possibilities of love. Bittersweet is the word, I suppose. It’s nearly three hours long but time simply flew by – which is the message of the movie itself.