It's cute as a Button

Time does funny things in the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." By the time it was done, Brad Pitt's character seemed 80 years younger and I was three hours older.

The result -- flaws and all -- is terrific.

In some ways, this is your standard, give-me-an-Oscar epic. It's long (two hours, 50 minutes), richly capturing a variety of eras and places. Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump"), the master of the mega-fable, adapted it with Robin Swicord.

In others, this is bizarre. Pitt shares the lead role with at least six other actors, including two kids and a dwarf. And when was the last time you saw a fantasy plot based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story?

Fitzgerald is known for his five novels, but he wrote 160 short stories, often getting quick cash from magazines. "Benjamin Button" ran in Colliers in 1921; it gave its heroine the same name (Daisy) as in the Fitzgerald novel ("The Great Gatsby") that arrived four years later.

Beyond that, this isn't typical Fitzgerald. It's based on the notion that a baby is born old and keeps getting younger. (What, you missed the time-travel sequences in "Tender is the Night"?)

It's also not typical of director David Fincher. This is a hugely romantic story -- hints of "The Notebook," even -- from the director of such tough films as "Fight Club," "Panic Room" and "Se7en."

Still, it works -- most of the time. Pitt and his fellow Benjamins give wonderfully restrained performances. Like George Clooney, Pitt refuses to coast on his looks; he creates solid, serious art.

The flaw comes in the final half-hour, when Benjamin makes a decision that seems forced and out of character. Even counting that, however, "Benjamin Button" is an involving and entertaining way to spend many, many hours.