The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: David Fincher

04Jan09

by The Great White Gypsy

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“The first rule of Fight Club is:  You do not talk about Fight Club.”

“My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances.”

David Fincher, what are you doing?

There is nothing wrong with having a niche in Hollywood, as long as you do it well. Alien 3, Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac.  David Fincher has done very well in his niche as a director of dark, violent, but thought-provoking thrillers.  I understand when a director wants to branch out artistically (there were actually rumors that Fincher was the original choice for Lords of Dogtown, and he did start his career making George Michael music videos), but don’t take someone else’s niche…cause then your niche doesn’t fit…and you walk through the rest of your career with your niche riding up on you.

This film should’ve been Tim Burton’s.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was originally a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Personally, I didn’t care for the story, mainly because it had the Kafka-esque shortcoming of spending too little time and detail on a concept that could, say, be the basis of a three-hour film.  It isn’t really a difficult concept: Benjamin Button is born an old man, and ages backwards.  I actually think the film makes more sense than the book.  In the story, Benjamin is born 5’8”, talks, and smokes cigars.  His mind and body are the same.  In the film, however, his body is old, and ages backwards, but his mind is normal, and ages forwards.  The difference may be small, but I think it translated better to the screen.

Originally, the story took place in Baltimore in 1890.  The film, however, takes place in 2005 in the path of Hurricane Katrina, and flashes back to the 1930’s when Benjamin was growing up.  Perhaps this was also unnecessary, but there is a recurring element of impending storms at pivotal moments in the film that works well.

This film is dark, but not psychologically.  David Fincher has a tendency to use minimal lighting and a sense of foreboding to establish his tone.  I felt it was unnecessary here, especially since the screenplay was written by Robin Swicord (Practical Magic, The Jane Austen Book Club) and Eric Roth (The Horse Whisperer, Forrest Gump); not really the dark side of Hollywood.  This film definitely has a Forrest Gump type feel to it, in length and in breadth.  But it also has a Tim Burton feel to it (I’m still hung up on this, I don’t know why) in story and tone.

This film could win an Oscar for makeup, costume design, art direction, etc.  But as far as acting, it also fell short.  Brad Pitt, for all his hype, is on lithium the entire film.  He confines the character to the emotional gray zone, and never strays too far from it.  Cate Blanchett is a nice counterbalance to this, always being lively, whimsical and free-spirited.  Their performances really don’t stand out, however.

This is not to say that the film isn’t good; it is.  Even at a lengthy three hours, it does feel long, but it’s not boring, it’s interesting.  Cinematography, music, editing (aside from a Spike Lee moment at the end) are all solid.  But it feels disjointed.  Fincher’s dark tone, Pitt’s lackluster performance, and an over-zealous adapted screenplay just don’t fit well together on screen.  I would replace Robin Swicord with John August (Big Fish), David Fincher with Tim Burton, and Brad Pitt with Ewan McGregor.

But that’s just me.

I’m a big fan of David Fincher, Cate Blanchett, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  And while I don’t regret spending $11 to see this film, or the three hours of my life, I think it could’ve been more cohesive. 

Final Grade: B-



One Response to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: David Fincher”

  1. i was pleasantly surprised to find out that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story upon which Benjamin Button (the movie) was based, they mention this in the opening credits


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