The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Nominations:

  • Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
  • Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Achievement in Art Direction
  • Achievement in Cinematography
  • Achievement in Costume Design
  • Achievement in Directing
  • Achievement in Film Editing
  • Achievement in Makeup
  • Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Adapted Screenplay

The Black-and-White:

A review by SpacedCowboy

This is an interesting film. Count ’em, 13 Academy Award nominations. That makes it the second most nominated film of all time. Think about that for a minute. My read is that, according to the Academy, the suggestion is that this is one of the best movies ever. Ever.

The synopsis from imdb.com:

On the day that Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, elderly Daisy Williams nee Fuller is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. At her side is her adult daughter, Caroline. Daisy asks Caroline to read to her aloud the diary of Daisy’s lifelong friend, Benjamin Button. Benjamin’s diary recounts his entire extraordinary life, the primary unusual aspect of which was his aging backwards, being born an old man who was diagnosed with several aged diseases at birth and thus given little chance of survival, but who does survive and gets younger with time. Abandoned by his biological father, Thomas Button, after Benjamin’s biological mother died in childbirth, Benjamin was raised by Queenie, a black woman and caregiver at a seniors home. Daisy’s grandmother was a resident at that home, which is where she first met Benjamin. Although separated through the years, Daisy and Benjamin remain in contact throughout their lives, reconnecting in their forties when in age they finally match up. Some of the revelations in Benjamin’s diary are difficult for Caroline to read, especially as it relates to the time past this reconnection between Benjamin and Daisy, when Daisy gets older and Benjamin grows younger into his childhood years.

IMHO Benjamin Button is a fine movie. It’s a good movie. It’s not a great  movie, but it’s not bad. Several things worked well in the film, but a couple of major pieces were missing. There was good, bad, and also some things that were fine, but not great.

The Good:

First what worked: the cinematography and art direction were great. I agree with nods in both those categories. The sets were deep and rich, and thoughtfully shot. The movie took us on a journey both in space and time, and I particularly appreciated the subtle aging of the sets as time wore on. Well done.

The visual effects and makeup nominations were not a surprise. To be honest, going into the film, I wondered how the reverse aging of Benjamin would work, and how in the world would they handle him as a newborn, and then aged-baby. It worked. Interestingly, in the book, Benjamin is somehow born full-grown, but I think a much better solution was found in the movie. And the makeup and effects spent on Benjamin in this film worked, and worked well. Didn’t love the make-up on Cate Blanchett, but I’m guessing the nod came primarily for the work on Brad Pitt. And yes, he was perfect when we finally saw him “in his prime”, and that, my friends, is makeup too.

The Bad:

But the movie had it’s flaws. First the utter lack of conflict. Who was the bad guy? Who drove the story with the conflict? How come everyone, and I do mean everyone, turned out to have a heart of gold? Even the rough and ready tugboat captain had a heart of gold. The jaunty dwarf had a heart of gold. The prostitutes had hearts of gold. All the old geezers had pacemakers of gold. Even Benjamin’s biological father turned out to be a decent guy in the end. Who is the antagonist?

It’s not, I hope, that I am sadistic, and wanted terrible things to happen to Benjamin. It’s just that a story with no conflict is, well, boring. And it cheats us of the opportunity to discover depths in the characters as they face both evil, and good.

And what was Benjamin’s story arc about? What was he trying to accomplish? What was the purpose of the story, other than to simply recount the events that comprised his bizarre life? Once again, this basic element of storytelling was missing.

These major flaws leave me unconvinced about the nominations for adapted screenplay, directing, and best picture.

The OK but Not Great:

The costumes were … fine. I mean, nothing looked out of place, and I was more or less convinced of each episode’s time setting. Good costumes, but nothing so extraordinary to merit an Oscar, I posit.

The acting was … solid. Brad Pitt played a fairly straight-up, enjoyable and engaging character. I didn’t see a lot of range, or depth, or nuance, but he gave a fine performance. Best actor? Um…

Best supporting actress for Taraji P. Henson? I’ll admit I am conflicted on this one. On one hand, she gave a very good performance. I wouldn’t say her range was overwhelming, but her character was extremely sympathetic. On the other hand, although her character was extremely sympathetic, I wouldn’t say her range was overwhelming… Given the other nods in this category, I’d put her near the top of the list, and it wouldn’t be a travesty if she won, but neither will it be a given.

Editing: let me say, again, that no movie that runs 166 minutes should win in the category of editing. If there was a category for not-editing, that would be a different story.

In summary:

Good film. Lots of things worked. A couple of major flaws. Solid, if not inspired, acting. Will likely pick up some deserved technical awards, but I remain unconvinced in the major categories.

Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

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One Response to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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