*I’ve discussed this film often in my blogs, and as it is one of the Best Picture Nominees and the Golden Globe Winner for Best Drama, I feel the need to broadcast the review I posted on the IMDB when the film was originally released in November of 2006.
Babel-on, Wayward Director…, 6 November 2006
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
With “Babel” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted the apex to his trilogy that began with the gangbusters “Amores Perros,” and continued with the finely crafted and haunting “21 Grams.” Unfortunately, it seems that peak is crumbling. “Babel” has the same intertwining story structure as the previous two, but in hopping across continents and making the stories global (taking place in Mexico, Morrocco, and Japan), he loses some much needed focus. It also has what has now become his signature editing-with-a-hacksaw-style of chronology that worked beautifully in “21 Grams” but seems forced here. In fact there’s one set of scenes taking place at a Mexican wedding that is needlessly incoherent in its jumping back and forth. Everything in this set of scenes is taking place at one location on one night, so why the jumbled chronology? It makes one wonder if they forgot an editor all together.
“Babel” is not without its merits. The story lines are more often than not thought-provoking and challenging. The ensemble acting is top notch from the big stars (Cate Blanchett is riveting as always in all her subtle and alluring ways and makes the most of her limited screen time) down to the no-name locals (the Morrocan kids being especially effective). There’s also a commendable ambition to the whole endeavor as it attempts to explore communication and human emotion in the increasingly global and paradoxically intolerant world. Memorable, too, is some great cinematography of the Tokoyo skyline (especially that awesome closing pan-out from the high-rise balcony) and the Morrocan highlands, where the centerpiece of the intertwined tragedies takes place when an American tourist is accidentally shot by some goat-herding kids playing with a gun used to keep away jackals from their family’s livelihood.
Unfortunately “Babel,” in its uncompromising vision, plays out painfully in strained, awkward lurches that stretch believability. It’s interesting how during various moments, different story lines seem the most compelling. The early scenes in Morocco of both the American couple (Blanchett and Brad Pitt) and the local goat-herders are stark and intimate and represent the best at what Inarritu is capable of as a storyteller. Later, he applies a humanistic touch to the scenes of the Mexican nanny taking her American charges across the border for her son’s wedding. There’s a wide-eyed innocent nature to the culture clash he depicts that gets garbled later when Gael Garcia Bernal (as the nanny’s nephew) dives off the deep end with little reason and leads to a tragic series of events that really test the viewer’s ability to take this all as seriously as the filmmaker’s would like us to. Likewise, the Japanese tale of the deaf-mute teenage girl struggling to cope with society’s unwillingness to communicate on her level, a distant father, and the recent suicide of her mother lurches forward so melodramatically it becomes banal, and the connection it has to the other stories is the biggest stretch to swallow, and most viewers will choke on it.
Then, of course, there is the presence of the aforementioned uber-star Brad Pitt. He’s at a point in his career where his celebrity status trumps his acting talent. He’s actually quite good as Blanchett’s frantic husband, but his star-power is distracting and constantly has the viewer thinking in the back of their mind “wow, Brad Pitt can act” rather than feeling anything for the character. This is a piece of stunt-casting that doesn’t work.
There are many compelling moments and noteworthy performances in “Babel,” but it crumbles under its own weight as just about everything is reduced to the big breakdown/crying scene, and we are left wondering what Inarritu will do next as a director. He’s got talent to spare, but ran out of steam when taking his intimate look at human tragedy global with “Babel.”
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database
I totally agree – Crash held together way better with a more defined plot and better dialogue that really developed what the director wanted us to understand from the film. This was not clear from Babel, although perhaps that was the point? I also thought the director was self-indulgent in some scenes, taking too long to drive home his point with some of the picturesque scenes set to music (for example, the Japanese techno club)…
I also agree with the points that you made in your review. I just watched the movie last night and I must honestly say that I was very disappointed. Not only did I think that there was too weak of a link between the original seller of the gun and the shooting (why there was such a focus on the Japanese daughter of the original gun seller is beyond me) to intertwine the stories of both, but I got tired of seeing needless nudity. I understood the artistic purpose of it in the beginning of the movie, but, after that, it was just overkill. The movie lacked depth (which I was desperately searching for throughout the film) and a more intricate storyline. If I had to rate it, I would give it a C-.
I saw the film last night and found it unsettling and almost irritating. Superficially, it is powerful with great music and interesting cinematography. Aside from the fact that it leaves one feeling hopeless as the night wore on and it was STILL in my mind, I began to notice that the REALLY horrible things happened to the Arabs and Mexicans…least overall affected(in the long run) were the Americans( no one died or lost their home etc.) This leaves me with the impression that the sublety of DEEP racism is always there, even though not easy to detect. I’m sure the Director is unaware of this but isn’t he “taking on the language of the oppressor?”
Has anyone else noticed this? I’d be interested to know…
Interesting take…you might be on to something. -DHS
I forgot to add that in my opinion the story would have been at least more even handed if, for example, the white children were never found(entirely pausible) or kate Blancett DID die instead of it being a rumor that the Moroccan family believed…or if the Moroccan boys did NOT shoot that damn gun and the boy was NOT killed and they all gave up…or th Mexican babysitter was NOT deported..like that…ya know?
I fully expected one or all of those things to happen…odd how none of them did. Ties in nicely to your previous comment as to why this may be. -DHS
I think most people can’t see the inmense value of this film because it mirrors the “paradoxically intolerant world” within us. How the media and the border officers take everything so out of proportion, etc. Even in areas where we speak the same language the abism that separates us is inmense. Gonzáles Iñárritu displays the “Confusion of the tongues” masterly. What is he going to do next? I don’t know, but I bet he will continue in the line of portraing how us Humans are the only specie that is so far away from each other.
Brenda, I agree that was the intent of the film, but I don’t think it was masterful in the delivery of the message. Though the point was the muddledness of human interaction, the film itself was too muddled to provide any clarity of vision. I do eagerly await the director’s next work…he makes films like no other, and is one to watch for sure. -DHS
I think it is masterfull the way AGI depicts human nature and limitations, how in spite the different language in every country, human emotion and bad choices are still the same, teenagers around the world suffer the same period of rebelion and feelings of rejection, how the Moroccan father and the Mexican nanny, both from thrid world countries share the blindness of having the vision of “what could happen” the media frenzy blowing everything out of proportion for the sake of sells or ratings. Overall the mastery comes from showing the subtle connection among humans regardless of their culture or language. My humble opinion.