Try imagining Forrest Gump played in reverse, and you soon understand what you are getting yourself into with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Like Gump, Button is the woebegone tale of a wide-eyed Candide who goes through life on luck and pure happenstance, chasing the supposed love of his life throughout historical mile markers, from WWI to the Beatles to the Apollo space launch, and inexplicable coincidence, all full of southern-fried hokum and sentimentalized pedestrian pap. The only major difference, save for Button being much more the casual observer to Gump's active yet obliviously so participant, is that Benjamin Button was born an old man and is aging in reverse, destined to meet his beloved somewhere in the middle only to lose her again in his inevitable childhood "old" age.
Granted, with David Fincher at the helm, Button is a technical marvel, not just aging Brad Pitt (his newborn CGI persona looks like a cross between Karl Rove and that mutant head thing that came out of Marshall Bell's chest in Total Recall) and shopping his aged head onto the diminutive actors portraying his "childhood" bodies, but also de-aging the 44 year old actor all the way back to his Thelma & Louise days, as well as turning the 39 year old Cate Blanchett into a 20 year old muse for Pitt's Button, but with such a banal script by Gump Oscar winning scribe Eric Roth, which is nothing more than a retread of the aforementioned previous film (Button is based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, but so loosely, one may not recognize anything but the aging in reverse premise which is the story's only recognizable leftover) and the even banaler (is that even a word?) performances of the usually vibrant Pitt and Blanchett, this obvious Oscar hopeful (and would-be winner) is sadly, one of the most generic movies of the year, which is truly a shame considering the visceral nature of the filmmaker's previous works.
It does come as a bit of a surprise that the man responsible for such gutterally cerebral films as Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room and last year's brilliant police procedural-cum-mindfuck, Zodiac, could hand in such a middling, bourgeois bore as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, yet here it is right in front of our faces - and for nearly three hours at that! Yet this cinematic let down, being somewhat foreshadowed considering the rather hackneyed screenwriting legacy that comes attached, can be based much more on Fincher merely being the wrong guy for the wrong job than on the auteur becoming more mainstream and therefore less ballsy in his technique. Remember that this same cinematic year gave us Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, with its box office take coming in behind only Titanic in its brash behemothy, becoming the very epitome of mainstream filmmaking, and still easily one of the most artistically sound films of 2008, proving that success and art can work together. Unfortunately for Fincher, and for us, his technical talents, so alive and well in his past work, are utterly wasted on such a film as this.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though indeed visually stunning and obviously the work of an auteur with a specific artistic agenda in mind (the film's finale, as "newborn" Button inevitably leaves this world in an incandescent embryonic state, can be genuinely attributed to Kubrick's fantastical 2001 coda), is ultimately a failure due not only to its insipid storytelling (boring is as boring does Mr. Gum...um, I mean Button) but mostly to its persistent, and quite insistent generic nature. This ordinariness in the midst of such extraordinary circumstances is what kills Benjamin Button in the (very) long run. [12/31/08]