The central conceit, and little else, has been retained from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name: a protagonist who ages in reverse. (The story of course was written and titled before the soundalike name of Benjamin Britten came to fame, and as long as they were changing everything else….) With a script by Eric Roth, and with an historical scope and a “special” hero that often recall his script for Forrest Gump, the movie is at some pains to shore up the plausibility of the tale — a painful undertaking for sure — and to expunge the humor of it. On screen, nothing is more absurd about it than its length, two and three-quarters hours, plenty long enough to read the Fitzgerald story five or six times over. And its wistful theme of transience frankly gains very little from the reverse-aging phenomenon, nowhere near as much as you’d want to gain from so mindbending a device. The theme, moreover, gains nothing at all from the movie’s feeling of interminability. Director David Fincher, determined to show his softer side, softer than Zodiac and Panic Room and Fight Club and so on, manages first and foremost to show his technical side. The movie is replete with proficiencies of production (the periods are lavishly detailed, the brief tugboat battle with an enemy sub in WWII is dazzling, the duplex love nest is a splendid locale, etc.), and it serves as a virtual showcase for the art of makeup and/or art of digital touch-up, digital airbrush, digital prestidigitation, whatever went into the various aging effects on Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The seamless surgery by which the leading man’s head has been grafted onto bodies of different sizes is used, in this instance, responsibly. But it raises unsettling possibilities for the evolutionary next leap in screen body doubles. What’s to prevent another filmmaker from putting Brad Pitt’s head, in service of vanity, on Michael Phelps’s body? Cate Blanchett’s on Giselle Bündchen’s? With Taraji P. Henson, Jason Flemyng, Jared Harris, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond. (2008) — Duncan Shepherd
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