Review: ‘Benjamin Button’ dazzles with acting, effects

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    Based loosely on a premise by “The Great Gatsby” novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is faced with the unique task of making an audience believe that a man can age backward.

    For a film with a potentially preposterous concept such as this, not once did I question the authenticity of the film. This feat is achieved not only through some amazing special effects and a solid script, but also thanks to the performances of leads Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and a diverse supporting cast that includes Jason Flemyng and Taraji P. Henson.

    This marks the third collaboration between director David Fincher and Pitt after their work on “Se7en” and “Fight Club” and it’s safe to say Pitt has become his muse of sorts. Button is an old soul, someone we feel like we know from the minute we see Pitt onscreen, which is pretty early after he is born (thanks to a lot of motion capture work).

    Known for his meticulous directing style, Fincher makes films where no detail is left to chance; nothing is unintentional or coincidental. It seems like it would feel claustrophobic to try packing in Button’s life within a suitable running time, but Roth plots the film tightly, moving events along at a pace to where you wouldn’t notice almost three hours have passed when the lights go up. The film is loaded with symbolism for night and day, youth and old age, but it never feels heavy-handed or labored.

    This mixture of light and dark is a new one for Fincher, whose career has mainly focused on the latter. He made his transition from a TV commercial director to feature films with “Alien 3,” following up with the thrillers “Se7en” and “The Game,” the box-office-bomb-turned-cult-classic “Fight Club” (my favorite) and the unflashy serial killer procedural Zodiac.” But as Button proves in the film, it’s never too late to change course and dodge expectations and Fincher does.

    The film becomes intertwined with historic events, such as the Beatles’ first U.S. TV appearance, thus creating an American fable. Sound familiar?

    Screenwriter Eric Roth has found success with this formula before in 1994’s Oscar heavyweight “Forrest Gump.” That time, Tom Hanks played an ordinary man put under extraordinary circumstances, meeting unique characters and losing them along the way.

    This time, Pitt has the blessing (or burden) of going into his prime as the ones he holds the closest wither away, missing out on the joys of childhood but carrying maturity as his wrinkles give way to youth. Some of the same whimsical motifs, like the hummingbird in “Button” compared to the feather in “Gump,” immediately come to mind.

    I still can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen this film before. Granted, it’s a good one that takes you on an unforgettable journey and is sure to get the nod for Best Picture, but nothing I haven’t seen before.

    A curious case indeed.