The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Beautiful to look at. Technically stunning (I know how they can change faces in a computer, which sure saves a lot of hours in the make-up chairs, but how did they make him shorter?). A moving and intriguing story. And … looooooong. The pace was often deadly slow. Couldn’t they have found a way to pep it up a little? David Lean made movies as long as this, but he tossed in a spectacular scene here and there. I’m not asking for a car chase, but since they made this up almost out of whole cloth, using only the basic idea from an. F. Scott Fitzgerald short story … would it have killed them to have a little more action? There is a good scene when a tugboat rams and sinks a Nazi U-boat, but that’s about it as far as movement goes.
And all through the story, which is told in flashbacks as Daisy lies dying in a New Orleans hospital, letting her daughter know the true story of her life, hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the city. We get to the end … and it fizzles. We know it’s about to get really, really terrible, but it never happens. I was left to wonder, what was the point? Could the story have been told as the hurricane was actually hitting the town? Would that have pepped things up a bit, or would that have been too obvious and artificial?
Damn it, I don’t want to complain too much here, because in many cases this movie does what I wish more movies would do, especially in the area of SFX, which is to recreate scenes that would have been just too expensive to build. We get views of Murmansk, New York City in the 1950s, and beautiful sunrises that might have taken weeks to film if you had to wait for the right light. One shot lasting about five seconds showed a rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral in the distance. It had nothing to do with the plot, it just showed one of the things Benjamin and Daisy saw during their sailboat trip. That was nice. Not long ago that shot alone would have eaten up the budget for a whole movie.
But the fact is, the pacing is leaden. I got sleepy several times. Even in a prestige movie where acting and writing is the thing that’s supposed to bring you in, you have to make it march, you have to put a little caffeine in the veins. This is a good film, but everyone seemed to be just a little too reverent. The soporific, “inspirational” musical score doesn’t help one bit.
We have now seen all the movies nominated for the Big Five Oscars, so I’ll recap where the Academy got it right, and where they got it wrong.
Best Picture: May I have the envelope, please? Slumdog Millionaire. Right on.
Best Actor: Academy pick: Sean Penn. My pick: Frank Langella. But this was the closest category, in my opinion. Richard Jenkins and Mickey Rourke were also very, very good. The only one who doesn’t rate his place on this list is Brad Pitt. Possibly it’s because the motion-capture mask he had to wear for much of the movie made his features rather wooden … but he was wooden when he wasn’t wearing the mask, too. All I can figure is the old fools who vote thought it would be fun to have Brad and Angelina both on the ballot.
Best Actress: Kate Winslet. I might have gone with Melissa Leo, but I have no problem with Kate.
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. He was good, no question, but this was a blatant sympathy vote, to get the family up there and have a good crying moment. Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road was better, and more in spirit with the limited scope of the sort of roles this award should go to, but often does not.
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz. This is the worst pick of the lot. Marisa Tomei was better, Amy Adams was at least as good, but two black women, Viola Davis in Doubt, and Taraji P. Henson in Button, acted rings around Cruz. But the Academy will usually (though not always) go for the star name.
So, the Academy got one right, one was a draw, and screwed up three times. About average for the show.