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Aging in Reverse: Benjamin Button is a good-looking novelty 

If you have ever been unfortunate enough to work the graveyard shift, you may recall the downsides: When you're sleeping, everyone is awake. When you're

click to enlarge You In Reverse
  • You In Reverse
If you have ever been unfortunate enough to work the graveyard shift, you may recall the downsides: When you're sleeping, everyone is awake. When you're awake, everyone else is sleeping. Your breakfast is their dinner. Their lunch is your midnight snack.

Based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button attempts to give us a peak at a life lived backwards. Benjamin is an old man with cataracts in both eyes and ossified joints at birth. The twist is that with each passing year, he gets younger. His muscles and hair thicken, his eyesight improves. His peers die before he reaches childhood. His entire life is a graveyard shift.

It's a profound subject for a film with enormous talent on both sides of the camera. Director David Fincher (Seven, Panic Room, Zodiac) creates an atmospheric film with heavy filters, and gorgeous settings. Brad Pitt's Benjamin is mild-mannered, and seemingly at ease with his unique symptoms. It is the rest of the world that cannot come to grips with his condition, beginning with his father, who abandons him in horror.

While based on Fitzgerald, Button leans heavily on recent character studies. For example, Cate Blanchett (more reptilian than ever) plays the "Jenny" to Benjamin's Forrest Gump - his lifelong crush who comes to her senses tragically late.

While Pitt has proven he has Oscar-worthy chops, he doesn't seem to put much effort into this one. The makeup and digital-effects artists carve out most of his performance. He starts out as an infant version of Yoda, and forty minutes in, he's Don Rickles. By the time an hour passes, he's a 5-foot-7-inch Sean Connery. But don't worry, 18-34 year-old women; before long, we're back to the Brad Pitt you know from US Weekly.

I believe Fitzgerald's short story was a meditation on whether youth really is wasted on the young. This question was explored poignantly in the original material (adapted for this movie by Eric Roth). In Benjamin Button, however, it's merely a question of how Benjamin survives as a lifelong misfit. A chorus line of supporting characters adds color, but mostly are here for purposes of contrast; they grow old, Benjamin does not.

The real curiosity (as implied by the film's title) is Benjamin. I kept asking myself if a 60-year-old Benjamin - who, by the process of reverse aging, is around 20 - gets tired of bringing home floozies from the singles bar, wouldn't he prefer the company of wizened intellectuals prepared to reflect on the long journey of life?

These questions, for whatever reason, do not seem important to the filmmakers. What we are treated to, however, is a beautifully photographed chronicling of the life of a man who is part carnival act, part Nautica stock photo model. It's not the 150-minute epiphany the critics are searching for, but it looks great.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. Directed by David Fincher.


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