The first time I tried to watch this movie, I couldn’t. The first ten or fifteen minutes left me feeling this is the most pretentious, slow moving, overdone piece of ham I’ve seen in a long time.
The second time I stayed with it all the way through, and was actually pretty pleased.
I’ve almost never been able to not finish watching a movie or reading a book once started. Only one or two times in my life. I’m compelled not only by the effort put into these works by their authors and collaborators and everyone involved in making a book or movie happen, but I also want people who pick up my books or see movies I had anything to do with to get the whole thing before making a judgment.
So now that I’ve watched the whole flick, here’s my response.
There are some pretentious things about BUTTON, but there are also some lovely things.
Bradd Pitt for one. A highly underrated actor, much the way Robert Redford always has been. Maybe because they’re good looking guys who seem to be blessed with the grace to make their success look easy and inevitable.
But in fact, they are both, for my taste, great actors. They aren’t the kind of shape shifters the Hoffmans are (Dustin and Phillip Seymor) or even the kind of consistently brilliant seemingly regular guy actor but actually interpreter of varied kinds of characters Jeff Birdges makes look equally easy. And they never play the kind of street savvy emotional ethnic roles of Pacino and DiNiro et. al.
But Redford and Pitt are consistently terrific, and from my experience, playing angry or emotional is a lot easier than playing ordinary or seemingly what you are.
And Pitt’s range has always been broader than Redford’s anyway. The first time I realized how good he was was his supporting role in THELMA AND LOUISE, where most of us first noticed him. But as an actor, the role that really caught my eye was the supporting one he played in TWELVE MONKEYS, one of my favorite flicks, in which he plays the wealthy but insane heir to Bruce Willis’ usual stoic hero.
And this year he played another great out-there supporting character in BURN AFTER READING. And was excellent, as well as very funny.
Now here he is carrying THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON and as far as his part goes, he pulls it off, beautifully.
Which isn’t the case for his leading ladies—Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. As much as I love their acting, Swinton isn’t juicy enough to match the sensual ease of Pitt’s screen presence, and though Blanchett is capable of the same kind of sensual screen presence, in this movie she comes across more cool and even withdrawn than she should, except when playing her character as a young woman where’s she’s more goofy and pretentious than the character needs to be to prove she’s young. As they both “age” in their ways during the course of the film, Pitt’s character seems for the most part more believably whatever age he’s supposed to be, even incorporating the contradictions of the reverse aging of the plot, while Blanchett’s aging seems way too obviously theatrical rather than felt and lived.
There are a lot of nice acting bits by various supporting actors, though David Fincher (the director) for my taste, doesn’t make them serve the story-line and style of the film very well, so that many individual scenes work but could be from entirely different movies with entirely different styles and storylines.
That may also be partly the fault of the writers (Eric Roth and Robin Swicord are the credited writers of the story, and Roth the screenplay). Or the fact that it’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story and short story’s don’t usually lend themselves to the kind of epic ambition this movie is going for.
But there was enough scenes and shots and moments in BUTTON to end up not only pleasing me but moving me, Maybe I’ve just lived too much and experienced too much so that almost anything can resonate in ways that become emotional for me these days, or maybe some of the scenes and some of the acting and the dialogue really were done well enough to cause it, but for whatever reasons, I did get misty eyed several times, and had those little cathartic moments that can be one of the pleasures of movies and a necessary way for some of us to find relief from the daily deluge of bad news these days.
So, ultimate response, worth seeing for anyone interested in movie making as an art, for the attempt it makes but ultimately fails at. Anyone else can wait and check it out on cable sometime in ’09 I would guess.