Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"He was born old." That expression, referring to the prematurely middle-aged among us, must have been what spurred F. Scott Fitzgerald to create his puckish 1922 short story about Benjamin Button, who was born an old man and got a day younger every day. In this greatly expanded, much less frivolous film version, Benjamin's birth year is moved from 1860 to 1918; instead of fighting in the Spanish-American War, Benjamin sees action in World War II. What neither of those times possessed was the technological legerdemain that enables Brad Pitt to play Benjamin, through computer effects work (and old-fashioned makeup), for most of the character's long life. But the most satisfying tricks are performed by writers Eric Roth and Robin Swicord and director David Fincher. They give flesh and feelings to the essentially passive Benjamin and provide him with a willful, glamorous partner: the dancer Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Of all the movie's dazzling effects, the most special are the internal ones. Benjamin, a minority of one, can raise his resignation into wonder, and lift the viewer along with him.