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Curious about the early reviews for 'Benjamin Button'?

November 24, 2008 |  2:58 pm


Following the first widely attended screening of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" this weekend in L.A., the initial reviews are certain to raise Oscarwatchers' curiosity about a top kudos contender.

Among the Oscar bloggers, Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly says, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is "an Oscar movie with a capital O, with jaw-dropping production values, a soaring romance, and terrific performances, particularly from supporting-actress candidate Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin's de facto mother. Even if Brad Pitt doesn't make it into the tough Best Actor race (the likes of Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio may squeeze him out), I still can see 'Button' racking up as many as 11 nominations, which could very well be the highest tally for any film this year. Once the film opens on Christmas day, I guarantee we'll all be talking about one thing: whether or not Benjamin Button made you sob."


Kris Tapley of In Contention, who admits, "I didn’t fall in love like so many in the crowd did," thinks the film will do even better at the Oscars: "I think there is no argument against Cate Blanchett being nominated for Best Actress, and again, I think she takes this award in a cake walk. There is no actress in that category standing up and demanding this award like her work is here. Nominations for Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup, Original Score and Visual Effects are virtually assured. That’s 10 you can take to the bank. Meanwhile, Jacqueline West’s costumes are certainly good enough (and varied enough) to demand a spot, while Taraji P. Henson really is the heart of the piece in many ways and could find herself in the running for Best Supporting Actress — no news there. And the sound design, from interesting voice manipulation to a riveting wartime sequence, could easily slip in. So if you’re keeping count, that’s 13. Brad Pitt does not blow the role of Benjamin Button out of the water and perhaps he underplays it a bit too much. But it is great to see him happy to get out from underneath his star persona, and with the right level of support, he could make it 14."

And Sasha Stone of Awards Daily says flat out "if I had to name the film that would probably have the best shot at winning Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costumes, Art Direction it would be this one." As she explains, "The first and probably most important reason is that this is a film that works on every level. It is an authentic bit of writing, straight from the heart of Eric Roth." And, as she says, "Combine Roth’s emotional output with David Fincher’s exactitude and you have something nearly perfect. With so many limbs, emotions and ideas the film shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Much credit is due to Brad Pitt, whose Benjamin Button is a soul-shattering creation. Cate Blanchett, who bursts forth like her own hurricane. Taraji P. Henson as Queenie is the heart of the film." For Sasha, "The film is a visual delight — though it’s oddly cold in its scenery. A warmer, cozier world wouldn’t have made it a Fincher movie. The truth is that it works with Fincher as the director. It is stranger than it would have been if, say, Spielberg had directed it. Nonetheless, with Spielberg it might have tipped too far into sentiment and been mush as a result, no offense. I did not feel a detachment to it at all and I fully expected to. I didn’t think that Fincher could pull off something overly sentimental. I thought it would be a few steps removed and all about the effects and the gimmick. It turns out, though, that this film is about the human experience."

Steve Zeitchik who pens the Risky Biz blog at the Hollywood Reporter says, "For about forty-five minutes the concept takes you by storm (and makes your head hurt, in a good way), with the narrative and visual inventiveness not seen in an American film in a long time (at least one not made by Charlie Kaufman, anyway). The movie (some spoilers below) droops a little after that, as Button begins to make his discoveries out in the world. But it rebounds powerfully in its final hour as the doomed love story (he's getting younger, she's getting older, and they can only be in love for a few years in the middle) finally takes flower and as Button reaches the end (that is, the beginning) of his life. It winds down on a note of melancholy that will break your heart (and make it, frankly, a slightly tougher sell than expected as a popcorn entertainment while winning it, undoubtedly, scores of awards supporters." However, he too notes, "Pitt's acting and character are, contrary to how you might expect material like this to be handled, actually a little understated."

And finally, after teasing us with someone else's thoughts on the film last week, Anne Thompson of Variety weighs in saying, "David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") have delivered an historic achievement, a masterful piece of cinema, and a moving treatise on death, loss, loneliness and love." She thought, "The actors are superb, especially Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who should earn Oscar noms. What's missing has partly to do with the limitations of the technology. Button reminds me of Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardner in "Being There." He's oddly passive and restrained, zen-like as he floats through all the decades, watching, listening, learning. He narrates the tale via his diary, along with his dying love Blanchett. We see him engaging with people, but he never says much. We see him from the outside; we never get under his skin, and we never learn the fruits of his wisdom. He stays much the same."

For Todd McCarthy of Variety, "Much of the film's romantic and philosophical posture hinges on Benjamin and Daisy getting together at the right time, and they do so in an entirely satisfying way; by the time of consummation, with Brad Pitt now in full physical glory and Blanchett at her womanly peak, they — and the audience — are more than ready for it. But their passion is all the more pointedly ephemeral due to the consciousness of being headed in opposite physical directions." And McCarthy thought, "In all his physical manifestations, Benjamin is a reactor, not a perpetrator, and Pitt inhabits the role genially, gently and sympathetically. Blanchett's Daisy is the more volatile and moody one and, after bluntly revealing the selfish impetuousness of Daisy's youthful self, the thesp fully registers both the passion and insecurity of the mature woman." However, he concludes, " for what is designed as a rich tapestry, the picture maintains a slightly remote feel. No matter the power of the image of an old but young-looking Benjamin, slumped over a piano and depressed about his fading memory and life; it is possible that the picture might have been warmer and more emotionally accessible had it been shot on film."

Mike Goodridge of Screen Daily thought, "Pitt gives his best performance to date, capturing the weariness of old age as convincingly as the vigour of youth. Blanchett (who is also given a digital rejuvenation for her teenage years) is as superb as ever, although the chemistry between the two is muted to say the least." However, he found, "The curious thing about Benjamin Button is the questionable profundity of this lengthy saga. Is it a meaningful parable about love and time or is it just a gigantic shaggy dog story? With that in mind, you can't help but look at your watch occasionally and wonder whether some plot meanderings, while always pleasant, have any bearing on the story whatsoever."

Writing for the U.K. magazine Empire, Nev Pierce found the film, "brilliant and beautiful and beguiling and any other adulatory adjective you can chuck at a movie" in his spoiler-filled review. In a cautionary note, he says, "Pitt's is a performance so good it could go unnoticed: subtle and seamless and gloriously free from any actorly pretention, any obsequiousness. It could easily be underappreciated amid the sure-to-come hyperbole (here, for starters) about the picture's digitally-aided aging." He thought, "Fincher's achievement is not just that the film moves you but that it does so without being cloyingly sentimental. To credit him is not to diminish Eric Roth's screenplay — which is a triumph of imagination and expansion, giving substance to themes the F. Scott Fitzgerald source story only, at best, hinted at, and soul to characters who were ciphers."

Photos: Paramount