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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Age Before Beauty 

click to enlarge © 2008 PARAMOUNT PICTURES

  David Fincher is the last filmmaker you'd expect to lasso a perfectly mysterious period fable about a backward-aging man with a clichéd side-story involving a young daughter, an old mother, an unread diary and a hospital deathbed. And, oh yeah, a killer hurricane. Curiously, Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), whose dark directorial touch has enlivened lesser material (Panic Room) and lifted good scripts to great works of art (Zodiac), allowed his so-close magnum opus to be hijacked by the same malevolent, sentimental, cinematic pathogen that infested similar potential-filled, woolly-mammoth projects such as Titanic and Forrest Gump. (Of course, both weepers also captured the Oscar for Best Picture, so perhaps Fincher knows something we don't.) His Button is a haunting dreamscape set in olden New Or-yeans, a sleepy, sepia-toned wonderland where you almost buy that a boy could be born an old man, grow to be a geezer that travels the world by tugboat, romance 50-year-olds when he's 20 (but looks 50) and 50 (but looks 20), and end up a fresh-faced teen who's figured out the meaning of life. It's all too mystical to be done with a straight face, and everyone (including the leads, a spaced-out Brad Pitt and a spellbinding Cate Blanchett) seems to realize this except screenwriter Eric Roth, who previously glossed over Gump's adaptation and whose flashback-to-the-future narrative device interrupts Button's intoxicating slumber, over and over, with the shrillness of a morning alarm. By the emotionally manipulative finish, when Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters make a trite, wholly tangential cameo, it plays more like Nicholas Sparks ingesting psychotropic substances in a ploy to spice up The Notebook. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng and Tilda Swinton

PG-13



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