Thursday, 29 September 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 97 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#4 - The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button:
It always seems to happen that whenever the Oscars roll by and the Best Film nominees are announced that there’s always the big buzz over whether or not we’ll ever see them in the cinema. Usually where I live the nominees get announced weeks before the films actually come out here. As far as I can remember I have only seen one Best Film nominee in the cinema and that was Avatar. We already know which film claimed the spot in 2008 since I reviewed Slumdog Millionaire quite a few weeks ago but here is another candidate that was up for the same award and, in my opinion, it was a lot more enjoyable. That’s not to take anything away from the brilliance that is Danny Boyle’s film but I was literally blown away when I caught this on the TV for the first time...and I didn’t even see the full thing.

We begin with two women in a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a young woman Caroline and her elderly mother Daisy who is on her deathbed. Daisy gets Caroline to open a special chest of items which includes a diary written by a man named Benjamin Button. As Caroline reads the diary we see the life of the man called Benjamin who was unusually born as an old man and instead grew younger as the years passed. His mother died giving birth to him and his father left him on the steps of a New Orleans retirement home way back in 1918. The film shows his life story; how he grew up in the retirement home, how he became a sailor on a tugboat, took part in World War II, fell in love in Russia and eventually found his way home. We also discover that Daisy knew him very well and grew up alongside him as we take a few journeys through her life and learn the exact nature of Benjamin’s relationship to both her and Caroline.

It is always interesting for me anyway to see an epic movie that doesn’t involve war or some kind of adventure. While I love those movies and hold midnight vigils for the people that make them, there was something so captivating to just watch a movie about one man’s whole life. Yes I saw Forrest Gump as well and there are quite a few similarities between the two films though all they really have in common is a man narrating his life story and of course Forrest still has a lot more of his life to cover while he’s telling his story and Benjamin’s life is already over by the time Caroline reads his. It is amazing how very few of the different people Benjamin meets during his lifetime actually interact with the important people like Queenie and Daisy, showing how widespread and diverse his life was. We literally do get a human tapestry with all the quirky characters such as Captain Mike the tattoo artist/tugboat captain, Elizabeth the dowdy housewife who dreams of swimming the English Channel, Ngunda Oti the flaky explorer and Thomas who happens to be Benjamin’s real life father. Each character feels properly developed and important, with their own special role in the story. It is a whopping two and a half hours in length but there really would have been no way to make it shorter without ruining the beauty of it.

Brad Pitt plays the titular Benjamin and I was honestly surprised to see him get an Oscar nomination for his role. True he was good but I wouldn’t call his performance award-worthy. His southern accent was pretty good and he does well with all the different CGI effects to change his age. In fact I think there’s only a couple of scenes about ¾ of the way through the film where he isn’t in makeup or special effects to change his age. Cate Blanchett appears again on my list once again as a hot young redhead and this time with a sexy southern accent covering her up. She is excellent as always and does quite well during her character’s dancing scenes. The makeup effects done on her to change her age are also pretty well done but she obviously doesn’t have them on her as much as Brad Pitt does. Taraji P Henson is fantastic in this, playing Queenie the woman who takes Benjamin in and raises him as her own. She has this brilliant sassy no nonsense attitude that made her a likeable character. She did deserve her Oscar nomination and it is a shame she didn’t win but that really was Kate Winslett’s year. I almost didn’t recognise Primeval’s Jason Flemyng as Benjamin’s father doing a very convincing American accent. Another nailed American accent comes from Julia Ormond who plays Caroline which (when a plot point is revealed) is a little curious considering she played Brad Pitt’s lover in Legends of the Fall. We also have a small role from Tilda Switon as one of Benjamin’s earlier girlfriends and providing a nice contrast to Daisy early on.

This film has a pretty good mix of artistic scenes that are there to look visually impressive and dramatic scenes that sell you the moments on the strengths of the performances so that should please both ends of the spectrum – the people who like the art and the big flashy stuff and the people who want to see good performances. Starting with the former, there’s a brilliantly done scene where Benjamin takes Daisy out for dinner when he arrives back in New Orleans and she dances by a fountain for him in the moonlight. There’s also a pretty little moment where we see a humming bird fly all the way across the sea after the war is over. One of my favourites comes when Benjamin’s father is nearly dying and Benjamin takes him up to the edge of the shore to watch the sun rise in one of the most charming and beautiful film moments to come out in recent years.
For the latter scenes it’s hard to pick just one but there is a really drawn out and well though up sequence where Benjamin describes a series of events that lead up to a traffic accident in Paris which has potential to be a whole other film all on its own so keep your eyes peeled. The final scenes will probably leave a few people with misty eyes but as for me I just love the very final sequence with Benjamin’s narration and the montage of the various people he met in his life with that nice piano piece playing over it.

I noticed that the film straight away doesn’t seem to live up to its title as there is no investigation really into why Benjamin ages backwards and the rest of the characters just seem to accept it with no problem though I guess since Benjamin is narrating his story he leaves out certain insignificant parts like that. So you can imagine there was something like that if you want to. I actually remember thinking once that wouldn’t it be a lot better if you started out old and then grew younger as time went on? Well from watching this film you will understand (as I did) that the perception of aging doesn’t change at all, no matter what way you end up experiencing it. Nothing lasts at all and sooner or later time takes everything away. Whether you’re growing older or younger you won’t live forever so it’s best to just enjoy what time you have. I realise I must have watched about a dozen films spouting that message already but I can guarantee you that this will be the last time I end an entry with that particular line. I imagined in the spirit of going backwards that I could suggest for you all to un-follow me on Twitter but then I realised what a silly idea that would be.

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