7 February 2009 | bob the moo
Technically impressive but the weaknesses in the material makes it a "good" film not the great one that everyone is suggesting
Daisy has been on her deathbed for quite some time and her daughter Julia is determined to be there as she leaves this world. As they sit together, Daisy asks Julia to read from her from the diary, postcards and letters of Benjamin Button, a man she had known her whole life. His life begins by being abandoned by his father on the doorstep of an old people's home where he is taken in and pitied for appearing to be older than many of those at the end of their life. So it continues as the child Benjamin starts his life as an old man but appears to be younger physically as he ages. His story tells of love and loss, war and peace, life and death.
Benjamin Button comes to the UK on a wave of Oscar hype and nominations and many critics here have given it an unquestioning five out of five stars and lavished praise on it. Of course I was keen to see it and went to see a preview as soon as I could not expecting brilliance but just out of interest to see the film that is wowing them. The truth about the film is as to be expected these days about many "big" films, which is that it doesn't really deliver on all the things you hear about it. Fortunately this is not a dull summer blockbuster that had all the money shots in the trailer and Benjamin Button is an engaging and enjoyable film it is just not the "soul-filling" "visionary piece" or "modern classic" that some have hailed it as. In the broad story of a man's life, the film is engaging and has plenty going on as others have said the film doesn't feel as long as it is and in essence I was interested in what was happening and what was going to happen.
The problem is that I was rarely that interested in what had happened and I didn't really feel myself being that engaged by the lives I was watching. In a way this is a positive thing because the film doesn't ever go for the easy emotions and it stays away from the sweeping musical scores and grand emotion that some directors would have milked as hard and as often as possible. This restraint is to Fincher's credit as it creates a more adult and worthy feel as opposed to the feel of someone frantically pushing "cry" or "laugh" buttons but it does leave me with the problem that I ended the film feeling like I had watched a "nice" film not a great one. Within the context of the narrative, the ageing backwards concept didn't produce what I would have liked. Here and there it gave me pause for thought due to putting a slightly different spin on a common situation but I'm not sure how much I was doing versus the film. Outside of the odd moment, the film follows birth to death and the direction of ageing isn't really that important in terms of the story being told, it makes it feel unusual sure, but doesn't actually deliver much with it. I was looking for a new perspective on things, something to justify the concept but it never really came. What this left me with was an OK film and I am left looking on at those weeping and proclaiming it to be one of the finest films ever and wondering, really, what am I missing? Technically I have no qualms with the film because the special effects are so good that you barely notice them. The "old man" effects are one thing but it is really impressive to see Pitt looking younger than I've ever seen him but still unmistakably be Brad Pitt. This is true of the whole film as it just feels pretty real, whether it be the "show piece" effects or just the way everything convinces as being of the period. Indeed in this area the film excels and I think it deserves the many technical etc Oscars I'm sure it will pick up. The performances are good but perhaps not quite as heartfelt as I would have liked. I do not mean I needed them to be obvious or weeping at the drop of a hat but they didn't have as much inside consistently as I wanted. Pitt is solid and has easy charisma but I didn't feel for him, I didn't think he put anything into his character's heart as a result of ageing backwards. Likewise Blanchett was only strong in a few specific scenes and didn't have much to work with beyond that. The support cast are good though as we have turns from Ormound, Flemyng, Henson, Swinton, Koteas and others all doing solid work.
So perhaps it is just me. I suspect I will have the votes and the PM's to assure me how wrong I am but I cannot see this film as being more that "pretty good". No matter how impressive the technology is or how interesting the concept is, it just doesn't have enough about it in the material to really be engaging, insightful or particularly moving. It is in no way "bad" I liked it and time moved quickly despite the length but it is just now the classic that many are calling it. A good film that could and should have been much better don't expect more than that.