“I was born under unusual circumstances,” explains Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who emerges from his dying mother’s womb as a wrinkled old man. It’s 1918, New Orleans, and his distraught father (Jason Flemyng) abandons the swaddled newborn on the doorstep of Nolan House, a retirement home, where he’s taken in and lovingly raised by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Despite his elderly infirmities, he’s befriended by Daisy, a spirited young girl who often comes to visit her grandmother.
While everyone else is growing older, Benjamin is gradually becoming younger. He goes to sea with rowdy tugboat Captain Mike (Jared Harris), who introduces him to worldly vices and pleasures. In the Russian port of Murmansk, Benjamin becomes infatuated with a sophisticated diplomat’s wife, Elizabeth Abbot (Tilda Swinton), who dreams of swimming across the English Channel. Meanwhile, Daisy (Cate Blanchett) has become a ballet dancer in New York. And when their lives once again intersect, they fall deeply in love, poignantly aware that their romantic relationship is doomed to be ephemeral, since Benjamin is living his life backwards.
Inspired by F.Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) cleverly frames Benjamin’s epic fable into a gentle character-study, revolving around mortality, with haunting memories as related by elderly Daisy to her estranged daughter (Julia Ormond) in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina.
Director David Fincher elicits subtly engaging performances, integrating Greg Cannom’s miraculous make-up with Eric Barba’s stunning visual effects and meticulous research by production designer Donald Graham Burt and costumer Jacqueline West.
At 167 minutes, it’s too long, but on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a tantalizing, touching, timeless 10. As Queenie says, “You never know what’s coming for you.”