Grave Error: Pitt?s reverse-aging is the only interesting thing about his character.

There’s something creepy about seeing an elderly man huddle beneath a candlelit tablecloth tent with a little girl—even if you know that the tiny geezer is actually no older than she. And therein lies the dividing factor of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, director David Fincher’s apparent up-with-people atonement for films such as Zodiac and Fight Club: You either accept that you can’t relate to the big-picture troubles of Benjamin (Brad Pitt), a man who ages backward, and try to feel his story anyway, or, well, you tune out about halfway through its two hours and 39 minutes of sweeping strings and circle-of-life lessons. Stretching the central idea from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, usually spot-on scripter Eric Roth goes all Forrest Gump on it to an insulin-testing degree. With the similarly epic and semi-fantastical Gump, you had an endearing character who was easy to cheer for; here, Pitt’s Benjamin is colorless, gawping, and passive as he de-ages from his wrinkled, early-20th-century childhood at a New Orleans nursing home (his horrified father left him on its steps) to his out-seeing-the-world phase (working on a tugboat and experiencing war, women, and death) to his re-babyhood while actually knockin’ on heaven’s door (a spell that, for all its oddness, is actually quite touching). Wrapped in not one but two flaccid narrations—Benjamin’s aw-shucks telling of his immediate story is bookended and punctuated, quite irritatingly, by useless present-day scenes of his love, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), dying and nearly incomprehensible in a Katrina-whipped hospital—the film whips its grand themes of love, death, and the passage of time hard, but the most remarkable magic comes courtesy of the cast’s makeup rather than the script’s dramatic arcs. (And Pitt as a horny 20-something with a gray, greasy combover is not exactly a technical achievement to be celebrated.) Amid mostly forced greeting-card-wisdoms—such as “We’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?”—there is a handful of truly thought-provoking and poetic scenes, including the period when Benjamin and Daisy “meet in the middle,” outer-age-wise, and can finally, and gorgeously, fall in love. Audience members who like their films drawl’d and endless may be entranced. But for a more efficient, less syrupy life-is-precious message, there’s always Fight Club.

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