in review: the curious case of benjamin button

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Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

in review: the curious case of benjamin button

amazing. incredible. beautiful. moving. fascinating. enrapturing.

what other big and flowery words would you like for me to use?
the list of words could continue, because—if you haven’t figured it out yet—this is one of the best movies i’ve seen in years. my expectations were as high for this movie as any other in a very long time (probably on the same level as the dark knight), so my glowing review says a lot.
it’s hard to know where to begin with this movie, but the first thing that comes to mind is the blatant and uncontrollable man-crying that occurred last night. yes people, as i’ve admitted before on the blog, i’m a cryer. unashamedly, i might add. this movie brought out the waterworks in epic proportions. i won’t give away too much of the plot, but let’s just say that at this stage of my life—being the father of two beautiful girls under the age of 2—that whenever there’s a plot line involving a father and a daughter, i just know that the tear ducts are going to get cleansed at any moment. in this case, with maybe 45 to 30 minutes left in the movie, there was a baby girl introduced and from that point on, i was a sobbing mess.
all joking aside, though, the main point i’m making is that this movie drew in your emotions in a very real and uncontrived way. you fell in love with the characters, but more importantly, you related to the characters in a way that made you live their lives and feel their emotions and care about their cares.
one of the things that i’m always a sucker for (and i’ve talked about before in other movie reviews) is good cinematography. this movie is a great example of how to beautifully shoot a movie. there was a warmth in just watching it that made you “feel” the visuals. as with other good cinematography, it became another important character in the plot.
one other thing i’ll point out is the fact that if these make-up people don’t win an oscar or some major award, it will be a crime against film. it goes without saying that making brad pitt and other characters look old was a masterpiece in itself, but i was most impressed by how young they made the characters. being that it was a movie that spanned the entire lifetimes of the main characters, i wondered how they would pull off their young versions. obviously, when they are kids, child actors play the roles. what is so special, though, is that by the time they are teenagers, they aren’t played by child actors, but rather, by brad pitt and cate blanchett themselves. we first see cate blanchett portray her character, daisy, at the age of 17 or 18! cate blanchett, who is almost 40 years old, plays an 18 year old and does it very convincingly. brad pitt, in the later years of his life, has the physical features of a teenager. i couldn’t believe what brad pitt looked like when we saw him as a teenager. no doubt about it, if we dug up some pictures of brad pitt when he was a teenager, he probably looked like he did in the movie. it was truly amazing.
finally, let me make a note about the main comparison that has been thrown around quite a bit in regard to this movie. the movie forrest gump has been referenced half a million times in the context of reviews of this movie. first, let me say that forrest gump, in an unparalleled fashion, is my favorite movie of all time. i’ve literally seen it 30 something times and it never gets old to me. so, that made me particularly leery of the comparisons. so when i say that the comparisons are fair and warranted, that should mean something. let me offer some points of contrast, though.
first, whereas the comparisons are warranted, these movies are cut from two different pieces of cloth. forrest gump was primarily a comedy (with obvious dramatic themes) that showed the absurdity of one man’s life. forrest told the president he needed to pee, he taught elvis how to dance, he struck it rich in the shrimpin’ business. while all these things could be true, they were meant to be almost absurd to show a grander narrative. benjamin button, on the other hand, is based fairly firmly in reality (take away the reverse aging thing). benjamin doesn’t do “absurd” things. he does things that were somewhat “normal” (worked on a boat, had relationships with various women, traveled the world), but employed a cast of unique characters (like forrest gump, but, again, with more “realistic” character development).
also, benjamin button, along the same lines as my first contrast, was much more gritty than gump. benjamin slept with a prostitute, he got drunk with worldly seamen and he was very much aware of the “ways of the world.” forrest, on the other hand, had an innocent and simple view of the world. whereas forrest had a relationship, it was always based on something utopian and much more simple (not to strip it of all depth, by any means).
finally, whereas button was based in a very real set of historical circumstances and times, that wasn’t the point. it isn’t to suggest that the “point” of forrest gump was to wallow in time references, the time in which forrest lived was much more of a “character.” in button the 50’s were simply a reference point for benjamin’s story. for gump the 50’s told you the story. they set the stage for what forrest was doing and discovering. in gump, you are engaged in a fun and inviting history lesson that takes you and forrest on a journey. in button, you are certainly enthralled with the nuance of the particular decade, but it’s much less important that in gump.
so, there’s my two cents. i couldn’t recommend this movie any more. it’s beautiful and moving in such a deep and fulfilling way. go. see. it.
**by the way, in my list of top 10 movies of 2008, i made a disclaimer about movies i haven’t had a chance to see. was on that list. easily, this movie goes to #2 on that list. easily. whereas i’m not prepared to put it past the dark knight, i can safely say that it’s a very close #2.**

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