It was just last year that Fincher delivered a great film, also three hours, on the subject of time. But whereas, in Zodiac—to say nothing of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York—the passing years wrap around the characters like a vise, catching them up obsessively in a single distended moment, in Benjamin Button, the ravages of time are trumped by a kind of eternal, undying love that mere physics is at a loss to contain. And Fincher, try as he might, scarcely seems able to buy into Roth’s brand of Harlequin-romance hokum. In order for Benjamin Button to succeed on its own terms, there shouldn’t be a dry eye left in the house. Yet, when the lights came up, mine were like sandpaper.

Mostly, the film is an orgy of excess, in which Fincher, armed with a huge budget, some of the best technicians in the business and every available brush in the digital paintbox, indulges his passion for luxuriant image-making with little regard for whether the story merits (or can withstand) such grandiose treatment. “All I have is my story,” Benjamin tells us in voice-over early on in the film. The true worth of any story, though, lies in the telling, and some stories aren’t worth telling in the first place. Life, after all, is too short.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was directed by David Fincher; written by Eric Roth, from a story by Roth and Robin Swicord, based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Opens Thurs., Dec. 25. Countywide.

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