Admittedly, I went into the movie skeptical, but it is hard to do otherwise with familiarity to the source material. The original short story of the same title was published in 1922 and is, as far as I can tell, a silly allegory for America's descent into juvenalia from the 1860's to the 1920's. Next to some of F. Scott Fitzgerald's other short stories, "Benjamin Button" does not stand a chance.
Eric Roth, on the other hand, apparently sees the story as a chance to explore the impossibility of sustaining romantic love, or the tragedy of two lives crossing only briefly -- Benjamin receding in age, and Daisy advancing, leaving them only a small window to fulfill their connection. And, also admittedly, this is a great thematic take on a somewhat lacking story. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on these two characters, Roth gets swept up in the expanse of Fitzgerald's story, and the result is a redundant and unfocused movie that drags, drags, drags. The phrase "redundant and unfocused" might seem like an oxymoron, but if "Benjamin Button" has any redeming quality, it is the ability to reconcile that phrase with startling clarity. Oh, how thankful we should be.
The film begins on the night Benjamin was born an old man, which also happens to be the night victory was declared in World War I. This is the first of many times Roth tugs on the collective consciousness in order to make up for a lack of actual story, or emotion, or character. Benjamin's life also passes through such major events as Pearl Harbor, the Apollo 11 launch, and the story even ends as Hurricane Katrina hits. The rest of the movie essentially consists of the same gimick over and over again: Benjamin is getting older, but actually getting younger! Also, he's getting older, but he's getting younger! By the way, older younger!
This kind of short-selling is annoying, but familiar. Roth's "Forrest Gump" dwindles major moments in American history down to Tom Hanks -- the real reason Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to give his almost inconceivably important civil rights speech was because of a retarded white guy. "Benjamin Button" is a pale shade of this. To suggest that Katrina is just an inevitable culmination of magical Brad Pitt's life is obnoxious and practically derogatory. There's also a mystical hummingbird thrown in for good measure (read: that feather in "Gump").
When Daisy and Benjamin finally have their window of romantic opportunity, the only reason it works is that Brad Pitt is finally Brad Pitt, sans make-up, CGI or bushy eyebrows. For a good twenty minutes, Cate Blanchett's statement comes true; she stares at Benjamin and gawks, "You're perfect." Cue knowing chuckles from the audience. I couldn't really tell you anything about the character Benjamin Button, but I sure could describe in detail all the phases of Brad Pitt's looks. Excuse me if I'm not thrilled to the same blind, sexy extent that Daisy is. She's cartoonishly shallow, after all.
Brad Pitt's physical perfection often informs the kind of rolls he takes, and "Benjamin Button" tries really hard to use this as an advantage. Pitt is so hot he can play an ancient hero, but when he plays a dork it is so funny because he is actually so hot. He can play a supernatural character for the very reason that he is practically supernatural. It is no wonder that Roth and Fincher forgot to include any substance to their flourish. Just look at that face.