As far as Oscar-bait movies go, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is at least lovely to behold. And I’m not talking about its stars, including Brad Pitt, who spends much of the movie in old-man mold as he plays a person who’s born ancient and grows gradually into childhood.
The film’s astutely used New Orleans settings and CG-driven magic give it a painterly if not almost otherworldly look, which certainly befits its preposterous fantasy of growing younger, rather than older. (I mean, really — must we take this as seriously as director David Fincher and company? After all, we’re not getting paid to do so.)
But beyond lovely looks — and another great performance by Cate Blanchett as Benjamin’s longtime love — the film is a languid, glum, slow go — sort of Forrest Gump without the box of chocolates.
Its decades-long sprawl, voyage of self-discovery, off and on romance and far-flung locales make it an epic, but it’s an epic which rarely moves — or moved me. In part that’s because Pitt is such a low-key non-presence on screen, as if he’s trying to outdo Tobey Maguire in the no-acting style of acting.
Make this a 100-minute movie and it might have held my attention. Turn it into a 165-minute epic and I grow impatient as Benjamin grows younger.
But the Criterion Collection which released Button’s new DVD is content to make the viewing experience longer still — at least for those who want to penetrate its movie magic. Among many other extras, a feature-length look at The Curious Birth of Benjamin Button is exceptionally well made and revealing.
Then again, it lays bare the aforementioned magic — and why do that? Whatever charm and appeal I drew from this film lay in the spells it cast, and showing how it’s all done turns such magic into mere moviemaking exercises. For big fans, Criterion doesn’t disappoint, but for casual viewers who feel this film is overblown already, more is less.