The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

llad -- Mon, 11/24/2008 - 15:43

 Back last awards season Jon Valin and I had a lively discussion about several of the films he and I liked and disliked.  One of those films was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  In our discussion, I remember Jon mentioning that he was not a Brad Pitt fan, but that this film was actually the first film in which he liked Brad Pitt's performance.  Well, Jon, I'm not a Brad Pitt fan either, but there is another Brad Pitt film about to be released that I hope you will like, one in which he gives an Oscar calibre performance.
There is only one word I can use to describe David Fincher's film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and that word is "seamless".  Here is a film that flawlessly combines screenplay, casting, acting, direction, lighting, production design,visual effects, music, etc., in other words everything that goes into making a film of this scope, in a way that does not call attention to any one element at the disservice to any other.  Everything works to enhance the performance and story.  It is the cinematic analogy of a multi-driver speaker that sounds like a point source.
Eric Roth's screenplay is episodic in nature, spanning 83 years, however it flows without being choppy in the way of other era spanning films.  However, the major element in making this story work is the superb visual effects work used in creating the illusion that Brad Pitt's character, Benjamin Button, is aging backwards.  Up to now, head replacement has mostly been used to enhance stunt work.  A lead actor's head can be grafted through computerized visual effects to a stunt double's body to give the illusion that the actor performed the stunt.  In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button head replacement is used to enhance an actor's performance.  Using both prosthetic make-up and computer enhanced imaging, Brad Pitt's head, with all the nuances of his performance intact, is placed on the bodies of several other actors so that during the course of the story he grows younger as everyone he loves grows older.  The body language and performance meshes so well that the only word to describe it is seamless.  After the screening the director, David Fincher was interviewed by Robert Towne (not a bad writer himself) and explained the complexities of how this was accomplished, right down to shooting with 5 Viper digital cameras on a special stage, to the creation of special thin prosthetics that allowed for nuance of facial expression for both Brad Pitt and the always amazing Cate Blanchett.
Detail is everything in this film and nothing, right down the the accuracy of the New Orleans accents, has been overlooked.  Cinematographer Claudio Miranda created a look that never detracts from performance or story, yet is strikingly beautiful.  I never thought of Fincher (Zodiac, The Panic Room, Fight Club) as a heavyweight director until now, but this film, which deals with some of the big questions of life without getting preachy, puts him right up there.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is going to be a contender for all the top awards this year and an instant classic.  Jon, I'm going to be curious if you will agree.

Jonathan Valin -- Tue, 11/25/2008 - 19:29

 <<I remember Jon mentioning that he was not a Brad Pitt fan, but that this film was actually the first film in which he liked Brad Pitt's performance.  Well, Jon, I'm not a Brad Pitt fan either, but there is another Brad Pitt film about to be released that I hope you will like, one in which he gives an Oscar calibre performance.>>
 
He already gave an Oscar-caliber performance in Jesse James (won the Silver Bear for it in Venice and got zip for it here, though Casey Affleck did get nominated). Pitt's also extraordinarily droll in the Coen's very-mixed-bag broad farce Burn After Reading--best thing in the movie. I look forward to seeing the Fincher film, as I like Fincher a bit more than you do, especially after Zodiac.

llad -- Tue, 11/25/2008 - 20:39

 I missed Burn After Reading when it was screened at the DGA and when it played in theaters, however I am going to see it at a studio screening early next month.  Work gets in the way sometimes.

Jonathan Valin -- Wed, 11/26/2008 - 19:53

 The first half is hilarious. 

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