Sunday, December 28, 2008

A David Fincher Tear Jearker?

Would it be wrong to declare that I sorely miss the clinical David Fincher over this new... softie? Immediately after returning home from the maudlin-fest that is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", I popped in last year's "Zodiac" and cleansed the palette. Now that's a film that gets better with each new viewing... a film that offers up a new interpretation through its detached gaze of obsession of procedure... a film that heightens the intellect through small, meticulous ways such as the speech given by Downey Jr. towards the end... and especially a film that expertly marries Fincher's formal technique on a collision course with the saturated and beautifully dark HD images of night time California. I honestly doubt I'll ever have the inclination to watch "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button " again. Some have stated that it might be a film that gets better with age- i.e. meaning that us young 'uns must not be able to appreciate love and loss on the same profound scale as our elders!?- but for me, its message did hit home, moved me subtlety at times, but ultimately wore out its welcome after the 2 hour mark when the path of star-crossed lovers Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett shared yet another dreamy moment designed to stimulate the tear ducts. For anyone who wishes to see games of coincidence and chance played out between star-crossed lovers done without the turgid (and obvious) backdrop of history paraded in front, check out the works of Julio Medem who does this type of thing flawlessly, on a smaller budget, and with considerable less green screen.

But part of the blame has to lie squarely on the shoulders of writer Eric Roth. The thought of this being "Forrest Gump" part two is inescapable. The parallels are too eerie to swat away. The same type of colorful, cartoonish characters pop up along the journey, the most annoying being Jared Harris as the good hearted captain of a tugboat whose spirit seems to morph, posthumously, into a hummingbird and flies away. I'm not kidding. It's exactly this type of fairy-tale metaphor that ultimately overtakes "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and evolves into that type of film ... the dreaded overbearing Oscar-bait epic type. In certain instances, flights of whimsy like this can lift a film into the upper echelon ("Breaking the Waves" anyone?). In "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" this diluted any good natured harmony I'd built up for the film. Things turned cloying, dis ingenious, and ultimately I just wanted the misery to end. I want the Eric Roth of "The Insider" and "Munich" back.

The film isn't a total loss even though my previous two hundred words makes it seem that way. The film does look incredible, holds a moving score by Alexander Desplat and Cate Blanchett, by god, manages to look even hotter than ever before. How does she do that? Fincher holds restraint over most of the images, relying on a firmly planted camera to slowly pan and descend the green/brown interiors, and there are two or three scenes where a bright light is planted directly behind the face of the main character that casts an ominous silhouette over the person. I found myself much more involved in the way a scene was lit or the details in the background then the platitudes of loneliness and loss that was developing within the film. This is never a good thing. Like the speculative final moments of "Zodiac" which forces the viewer to assess everything that's come before and make an educated guess, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" leaves nothing to the imagination, except why Roth and Fincher chose to frame this ages-long love story against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. I suppose its par for the course when one is piling misery upon misery.

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