I approached this movie with mixed expectations. I tend to think of Fincher as a director I don’t like, mostly because I hated Seven and didn’t much like his Alien movie. But I have liked a couple of his more recent efforts (Gone Girl and especially The Social Network), so I need to get past my earlier opinion of the man’s films. But then there’s the part where the screenplay was by Eric Roth, who also wrote the screenplay for the execrable Forrest Gump. And like that movie, Benjamin Button tells the story of a man who finds himself connected to world events over a long period of time.
Thankfully, Benjamin Button lacks the reactionary politics of Gump. It starts with an ingenious idea: what if a man was born old and got younger over time? Through a mixture of CGI, good acting and makeup, and effective depictions of various places and times, Fincher avoids the sappiness I feared. The movie is clever, and while its emotional climaxes didn’t work for me, I am aware that many have taken the film to heart.
The thing is, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button never makes any connection with me, emotional or otherwise. It is ultimately a shaggy dog story. It reminds us of the structure of a classic like Citizen Kane, but it’s Kane as if Rosebud actually meant something, which is to say, nothing important matters. There isn’t anything here beyond the concept. I might be glad that this time, Roth avoids the tendency to make a political statement, but he doesn’t replace that with anything else. We get events that happen over time, and there are recreations of World Wars and Broadway in the post-War era, but they exist largely to show us that Benjamin is reverse aging while everyone else gets older ... it’s the anti-Gump, nothing is important except the basic story. The framing device takes place as Katrina hits land, and even there, you don’t get any feeling for what Katrina will mean to New Orleans. Fincher gives us accurate representations of places like New Orleans, but never bothers to show us why we should care.
I’d be lying if I said the story didn’t involve me ... even at 166 minutes, my attention rarely flagged. But there remains something rather tiny about this movie that aspires to epic status. #515 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.