Posts Tagged ‘Brad Pitt’

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Looking Great For His Age(s) — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

December 28, 2008

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)
d. David Fincher 

“You never know what’s coming for you.”

So says a number of characters in David Fincher’s excellent film, and in many ways, it speaks about events within the film as well as commenting on the narrative. Showing the same masterly restraint (compared to his earlier work) that steered his overlooked Zodiac, Benjamin Button is many ways a study of life’s lessons over time as the former film was a study of procedure and investigation over time.

Fincher’s control and exercise in period detail help support a strong romantic story about the person (Brad Pitt) who was born old and grows younger as time passes. We learn as the character learns how life has its own plans and how one can live within that. It is in many ways a very tragic tale as the story, framed in the present in a hospital ward where the dying Daisy (a luminous Cate Blanchett) is tended by her daughter, centers on Daisy’s doomed romance with Benjamin.

When Benjamin is born, a wrinkled dying baby, his father, horrified, abandons him at the steps of a nursing home. It is this setting where time’s inexorable forward march and life’s fleetingness surrounds Benjamin; people come and go, either through death or traveling through. As he grows younger, he meets Daisy when she is but 5 years old, but it is love at first sight. They meet time and again as she grows older, and despite our hopes that theirs is an eternal love story, we know as the characters also know, that nothing is perfect forever.

Along the way, Benjamin meets many interesting characters who help teach him about life and its passing. His adoptive mother, played brilliantly by Taraji Henson, loves him and treats him as the son she always wanted. Everyone from his father (Mahershalalashbaz Ali) who quotes Shakespeare, to the tugboat captain (Jared Harris) who reveals his desire to be an artist, to his first real love (Tilda Swinton) who attempted to swim the Channel, all teach him that there is more to people than meets the eye; that, like himself, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that there is depth beneath the skin. Each actor does amazing work here, all better supported by a great script by Eric Roth (no stranger to the historical epic as he also wrote Forrest Gump and Munich).

And through it all there are portents of fate, that, in spite of the opening story of Gateau and his desire to turn back time with his backwards counting clock and regain his son who was killed in WWI, time cannot be thwarted. And as Benjamin grows older and towards his inescapable fate, so too does the story countdown to when Katrina makes landfall in New Orleans, its flood waters rising to wash away the past in an unforgettable last image.

This haunting tale of love, loss and life is carried on the talented (and perfectly formed) shoulders of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, whose performances shine brightly. Outstanding work by everyone involved.

**** stars.

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High Level Spy Shit — The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading

December 27, 2008

BURN AFTER READING (2008)
d. Joel & Ethan Coen

The Coens return to comedy a year after their intense thriller No Country For Old Men with a movie that also marks a return of many themes and character-types seen throughout their work.

Burn After Reading’s basic premise revolves around a disgraced Washington analyst (John Malkovich) who, while undergoing a divorce (from Tilda Swinton), has his memoirs and financials on disc end up in the laps of two gym managers (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who mistakenly believe that it is high-level spy shit. The double pun here concerns the burning of information onto the disc as well as a reference to the book Burn Before Reading, which was about CIA goings-on.

A large part of the fun of the movie is witnessing how the errors of judgement and farce pile up in typical Coen fashion until the last act is a dazzling maze of twists and turns all predicated on mistaken identities and the idiotic choices made by people way in over their heads.

Frances McDormand brings in a brilliant performance as one of the gym managers who, prisoner to her desire for plastic surgery, decides to use the disc as an opportunity for a blackmail scheme. Her character is an amazing study in how everyday people can think they are in control when in reality they are anything but.

Her actions, based on her greed and self-absorption — to the point of idiocy, are a theme constantly explored in the  Coens’ films. They of course always spell disaster for several characters. It’s something we see from Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo to the barber in The Man Who Wasn’t There  to even The Ladykillers.

For example, she unwittingly sends Brad Pitt to his doom by having him break into Malkovich’s house in order to get more information they can use to supply to the Russians. Part of the humour is that her espionage skills all seem to have been culled from an antiquated idea of spy-politics during the Cold War. Even the Russians are baffled by her actions.

Another character whose world falls apart in the Coens’ hands is George Clooney’s. He is cheating on his wife with Tilda Swinton, and, because of his womanizing ways, ends up crossing paths with McDormand. But what sinks him is an event that blindsides him and reveals his inadequacies and mortality. From that point, his paranoia takes over.

It’s all done humorously and with the classic Coen irony that allows us to finger-point and laugh without feeling as if we are implicating ourselves even as we identify with these characters.

Despite the heady and mesmerizing last act where all the jigsaw pieces fall into place with expert handling, the feeling of having been there done that does linger, and I was somewhat disappointed in Brad Pitt’s antics this time around, though his character’s final scene is tense and horrifying.

Overall, a fine effort by the Coens, but not the best. Perhaps on par with The Man Who Wasn’t There in its finely crafted execution and the sense of spiraling dread it creates, but not enough to blow my expectations out of the water.

**1/2 stars.