Director David Fincher bookends The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with two pieces of American history: U.S. troops fighting in World War I and the looming threat of Hurricane Katrina. In between, a timeline of historical and not-so-historical events plays out as one man grows up … or, more accurately, becomes a boy.
Starting in New Orleans at the end of the war and based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this engaging but overlong movie tells the tale of Benjamin, who's born with the face and body of a guy in his 80s. His mom dies while giving birth, and his frustrated father leaves him on the doorstep of a nearby nursing home, where he's raised by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, in a warm performance), the black woman who pretty much runs the place.
It soon becomes clear Benjamin isn't like other folks. As an infant, he suffers from ailments of a person who's 80 years older. But as time passes, he gets healthier and stronger. And he starts to look like Brad Pitt (who has one of his best roles here). So, over the next 2 hours and 45 minutes, Benjamin - whose story and folksy naiveté recall Forrest Gump's - picks up life lessons from all the people he conveniently meets along the way, including a displaced African, a perpetually drunk sailor and a horny aristocrat. He eventually falls in love with Daisy (played by several actresses of assorted ages, most prominently by Cate Blanchett), and their relationship through the years forms the film's core story.
"There are no rules," says Benjamin of his life. And the movie does play around with convention (that whole aging-in-reverse thing). Still, it's Fincher's most traditional film. He's never been so sentimental or aimed this high (not even in the rule-breaking Se7en, Fight Club or last year's underseen but terrific Zodiac). He stages nearly every scene with an awe that mirrors Benjamin's. By the time he reaches his 20s, Benjamin has 60 years behind him. As a result, he never really feels like he belongs. This charming fantasy, however, fits right in with other end-of-the-year Oscar hopefuls.