There’s nothing quite so nostalgic as going back in time – remembering what could have been, where life’s turning points happened, recalling old loves and best days. The idea of someone starting life old and living life backwards – getting younger each day – seems a strong premise for a film, and it’s the core of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a tale of Benjamin (Brad Pitt) born in strange circumstances in 1918 as a baby old man with arthritis and blotchy skin. Dumped by his real father on the steps of a boarding house for the sick and elderly, Benjamin is cared for by Queenie (Taraji Henson), who doesn’t expect the child to live long. However, Benjamin gets stronger by the day, aging backwards through middle age where he finds work as a tugboat hand and meets the love of his life Daisy (Cate Blanchett).
It’s a curious story indeed, a long and rambling exploration of time and what we make of it. Unfortunately though, director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac) makes far too much of it (it’s nearly three hours long), and although there are moments of tenderness, it’s impossible to overcome the problem that this originated from a short story (by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald) and that with one character moving in a different direction from the others, the story can only be a series of unlinked events. Screenwriter Eric Roth’s solution to the problem – to have Daisy recall Benjamin’s life from her deathbed – numbs us from any real emotional connection to the characters and means we know where things are heading from the start.
Blanchett and Tilda Swinton (who plays a lover of Bejamin’s before he finds Daisy) are in great form, but Pitt is directed as rather gormless and unemotional – a Forrest Gump or Chauncey Gardiner character with little depth or insight for his unusual way of experiencing the world. We are left to wonder only at the marvels of make up and special effects and wait – for a very long time – for the moment when Brad Pitt emerges as a teenager – with flawless skin and a full hairline.