27 December 2008

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Genre: Drama (Romance/Fantasy/Biopic - Smörgåsbord)

Now, let me first preface this review by saying that, after the mild-to-hot disappointments of its predecessing most promising films of this year (e. g., Milk, Australia, Frost/Nixon), I was seriously hoping to uplifted by this end-of-the-year film, a studio picture yes but one buoyed so far to leader status by a simply outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat (which I previewed here) and by some equally ethereally beautiful images of Cate Blanchett in ballet form that were press released; but, while my expectations ran high (as they should for a film of such large and purported clout and in release in the very last days of the year [a period of time traditionally reserved by the studios for their big guns, their categorical trumps and Oscar favorites, their babies]), I think, even if my expectations had been brought three notches lower (to the average B), I still would have been disappointed by this serious mistake of a film. Fortified only by Mr. Desplat's score, which fortunately suffered only minimal effacement by being tied to such a picture, Mr. Fincher's Curious Case was surely curious indeed - curious, in that it is a serious wonder to me how anyone in their right minds could mistake such a feeble gesture toward such epic bipics in the past as Forrest Gump and Driving Miss Daisy (to which there are more references than could choke a horse) for a film of a level anywhere near their caliber; to do so is as if to mistake a child's tissue-paper flower for a prize-winning orchid or the average American Idol contestant for a good singer. Sad the state is that there are many people who do such things.
In any case, down to the real business here: While Ms. Blanchett held her own despite a singular intonative slip and the insubstance of the screenplay (which by the way waddled in the mire of platitudes, over-ambitions, and even stereotypes - ahem, Queenie - with more relish in its so doing than would do the still-to-be-confused ugly duckling), Mr. Pitt, whose brilliant turn in this year's Burn after Reading had given me serious hope for him in the lead here, merely paced around in the part, as if he never quite had grasped it or its potential for drama, content therefore to merely suggest by his presence and stature the effects of great acting. Julia Ormond on the other side of cool was as flimsy as a flake (and likely as emotive too), and Taraji P. Henson, whose much buzzed about and aforementioned Queenie nose-dived with smiling face into an ever greater caricature of Hattie McDaniel's Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939), was quite simply putridly abysmal. Ms. Swinton's Elizabeth, though only a blip in the scale of the piece, was the only character who seemed truly at home in the reality of the film and Ms. Swinton herself the only actress who did not even once fall victim to the bower-birdlike ornamentations of crew.
Mr. Miranda, an obvious amateur behind the lens, pushed his colors and textures so far - no doubt in hopes of reaching the stylized heights of, say, Elle or Vogue magazine (i. e., vapid sets of porcelain figures in vomiticiously surreal, hypersaturated monochromes) - that it is a wonder he didn't break it. This exercise was no doubt helped and even egged on by the production and costume designers, who each seemed identically bent on providing the viewer with the most stereotypically rendered effects of every time and place enacted in the film - all hypersaturated as well. And the whole mess was tied neatly into tumbleweed by an editor who apparently doesn't know the meaning of concision, fecundity, or cliché. Even the make-up and the visual effects, though comparatively skillful, showed signs of egregious erosion by this catastrophe of an overall conceit for visual presentation.
And the sound, I believe, was not much better. Scrappy compositions of voice with voice, to produce the mottled and ill-timed speech of, for instance, the young Daisy, and similar audial flubs made listening to the film as uncomfortable as watching its frequently bottle-green images.
And I refuse to even seriously discuss the direction and the screenplay, which to be as brief as possible were as patchy and obvious as the adolescent fodder that supplies many a popular brand among eleven-to-fourteen--years--old.
All I have left to say is how so so sorry I am, Mr. Desplat, that your brilliant work, one of the best scores I've heard in years, had to be wasted on such banal, overreaching blather. I only hope you find more deserving matches, like your previous The Queen (2003), to support your achievements.

Grade for Mr. Desplat: A+; for the film: C+ - o, help.

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