The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I saw Button over a week ago, but it’s taken until now for me to get my head around it properly. The problem was that I knew I had a problem with it, but that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It wasn’t enough for me not to realise that it’s a superb piece of filmmaking, but it was enough to make me hesitant to comment on it without further thought. I do recommend that people see it (and certainly on a big screen as it looks nothing short of beautiful throughout) and suspect this may be a curious quirk of my own – I will watch it again – but it is there. It’s a curiously old fashioned film in both its approach and moral outlook (no one has evil intentions – or at least no one who is given screen time) that fits with the time period.

We’ll get the easy things out of the way – yes, it is superbly acted, directed and the art direction is nothing short of superb. It’s beautifully paced, glacial but never slow enough to have you looking at your watch (and this is a film that runs just shy of three hours) and works despite you knowing what the ending is (which doesn’t lessen its impact). The ending in particular is handled in a manner that is both emotionally affecting without being sentimental, the action almost occurs off-screen. It reminded me very much of Terrence Malick, what is left unsaid is often as important as what is.

Blanchett & Pitt are both superb, the latter putting in the type of subtle performance that is sometimes labelled anti-acting that is the complete opposite of last years loon in Burn After Reading. He’s very much turning into Robert Redford in that he’s underappreciated as an actor, his looks often getting in the way. Blanchett as per usual turns in one her usual refined performance and remains the closest thing we have these days to an old fashioned star. Few other characters get much of a look in or room to expand and develop as characters, but that is part of the film, it very much focuses on the doomed love aspect (love cannot conquer all is the clear point of the film) between the two main characters.

Fincher emerges as the consummate craftsman, every image seems engineered for maximum emotional impact, and this is where I think the problem begins. If anything, Button is too perfectly constructed – it lacks that humanising element (which isn’t to say that it is without humanity) of a part of it being “not quite right”. It seems stupid to complain that a film has no duff bits, but even a little wobble along the way may have moved it out of the uncanny valley of filmmaking. Fincher has previously been accused of creating squalid little films and favouring style over substance, but here like Zodiac he shows that it’s been a long time since he left MTV and that he has studied what came before the eighties.

Lastly it would be unfair not to comment on the technology that allows to plot to be realised. The adverts have concentrated mainly on the shots of Pitt as an aged child – like Gollum they are impressive in the sense of immersion a CGI character has within the film. However even more extraordinary are the shots towards the end where he looks younger that he did in Thelma & Louise. However this isn’t a stiff shot taken from old film like Clint Eastwood in “In The Line Of Fire” but a living, breathing performance. It represents another huge leap in computer technology, and is even more astonishing that you just casually brush it aside because of the strength of the film. This is one of those strange films where there is probably an effect of one kind or another in over ninety percent of the films shots, but they meld seamlessly with the story.

Like I said, I do recommend it – it’s nowhere near as sentimental as some critics have noted (in fact it could be argued that it’s particularly harsh in places). It may not be to everyone’s taste come the end, but it does hold the interest until the time it gets there.

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