I'm a bit dismayed by the critical reception Fincher seems to be getting these days. Most critics single out the technical wizardry of his movies – "Zodiac" was similarly praised – but they don't seem to feel his stories, his characters have genuine heart.
Here are a few excerpts from "Button" reviews:
Lisa Schwarzbaum, for Entertainment Weekly: "… this Button is a curious case indeed: an extravagantly ambitious movie that's easy to admire but a challenge to love."
Claudia Puig, for USA Today: "'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (* * * out of four) is worth seeing just for the superb prosthetic makeup and seamless computer-generated effects in which Pitt's head is digitally imposed onto older bodies. The film, ambitious if flawed, also is lyrical and melancholy as it tells the story of a man aging backward.
"But the tale, though laudably imaginative, is overlong and not as emotionally involving as it could be."
Peter Travers, for Rolling Stone: "What Fincher does, shooting digital instead of on film, is simply extraordinary. His astutely restrained direction fuses ferocity and feeling and creates a world you want to get lost in. …
"What Button shows is that Ben is ultimately not the hero of his own life or his own movie. He gets inside our head, that's for sure, but, frustratingly, we never get inside his."
A.O. Scott, for The New York Times, sees the film more clearly: "Above all, though, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' is a triumph of technique. Building on the advances of pioneers like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Robert Zemeckis — and on his own previous work adapting newfangled means to traditional cinematic ends — Mr. Fincher ('Fight Club,' 'Zodiac') has added a dimension of delicacy and grace to digital filmmaking. While it stands on the shoulders of breakthroughs like 'Minority Report,' 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Forrest Gump' (for which Mr. Roth wrote the screenplay), 'Benjamin Button' may be the most dazzling such hybrid yet, precisely because it is the subtlest. While he does treat the audience to a few grand, special-effect showpieces, Mr. Fincher concentrates his ingenuity on the setting and the characters, in particular — and most arrestingly — on the faces of his stars, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt."
Kenneth Turan, for the L.A. Times, is baffled: "... 'Benjamin Button' would've had a better chance of success if it had landed in the hands of a director with more of a facility for telling emotional stories than Fincher, whose films include 'Se7en,' 'Fight Club' and 'Zodiac.' No wonder everything feels icy and removed. Giving Fincher this project is like asking the great French humanist director Jean Renoir to do a slasher movie. As my mother used to say, no good will come of this."
I haven't quite worked out my response to these critiques yet, but I'm working on it.
My thoughts run along two lines:
1) As critics and moviegoers, we don't assess digital filmmaking very fairly. We're too hung up on spectacle, and the mere act of perceiving visual innovation/invention. We want to be impressed more than we want to be immersed. (That's not very well put, but I'm working on it.)
2) We're also losing our appreciation for tragic characters like Benjamin Button. We too often dismiss them as "flawed," too often put them at a critical distance, too often describe them as unknowable, or too unlike us.
Again, I'm still cooking on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and will write more about it later.
In the meantime, I'd love to know what you thought about the movie.
PHOTO: Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton. (Merrick Morton/Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures)