First published on 24 Jan 2009. Updated on 8 Apr 2009.
F Scott Fitzgerald's novella is a curious case indeed: where else
can you find Kubrickian distance, bumper-sticker dialogue and a
three-foot nonagenarian Brad Pitt
often in the same scene? Welcome to the wonderful, tragic life of
Benjamin (Pitt), a man who ages backward and is consigned to a fleeting
moment with his true love (Blanchett) before time steals her away. That
the movie never devolves into Tuesdays with Benji is
miraculous, though this deadpan Hallmark card still wants to jerk your
tears. It just prefers remote manipulation over supercheap shots.
Therein lies part of the problem.
For a melodrama concerned with
emotional pain, this fairy tale favours formal trickery over human
connection to a fault. When Fincher harnesses his prodigious chops to
complex concepts - Fight Club, Zodiac - the result is first-class
filmmaking. Without such intellectual grist, however, his flashy
technique feels like hermetic virtuosity; even though Button deals with
Big Themes, you'd swear the movie is being directed from deep inside a
cryogenic tank. Showstopping sequences and state-of-the-art
computerised aging can't substitute for actually engaging with Button's
epic story of loss. Detachment can hold suffocating sentimentality at
bay. It can also be a deathblow.