Sunday, November 05, 2006

Babel

As awards season kicks into gear, a lot of buzz has been generated about the latest film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Babel”.

Boasting a quality cast (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal)
and Academy Award nominated screenwriter (Guillermo Arriaga), many reviews are hailing this as one of the year’s best films and proclaiming Pitt an Oscar contender.

Adding to the expectations are that Iñárritu brought his Oscar nominated composer (Gustavo Santaolalla) and cinematographer (Rodrigo Prieto) along. I feel another nomination (at least in my Anonymous Awards) coming for Santaolalla. The music is haunting and fully reflective of each scene.

Sadly, as much as I was looking forward to this film, “Babel” fell short of my expectations and missed out in perhaps the most significant way.

I had expected Iñárritu to craft a film about the problems that are caused in the world via our differences in language and culture. The tagline of the film is that “if you want to be understood … listen”.

However, the end result is a film much more involved in playing a six degrees game than stirring more significant social commentary.

“Babel” has three stories simultaneously unfolding. The first involves Pitt and Blanchett on vacation together. She is shot and he tries to get medical attention for her in a remote village in Morocco. We also follow the shooter and their own environment as the shooting becomes an international incident with terrorist implications.

The second story involves the children of Pitt and Blanchett, played wonderfully by Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble. (Dakota's sister is cut from the same acting cloth … what did their parents feed them?!?) Their nanny (Adriana Barraza) and her nephew (Bernal) take them into Mexico from San Diego for her son’s wedding. Problems arise as they attempt to cross back in America.

The third story is set in Japan, where an emotionally troubled deaf-mute girl (Rinko Kikuchi) tries desperately to connect to a world she can’t fully be a part of. There is a thin connection made by the others to make this a part of the whole picture but let me quickly dismiss that troubled notion and get to the point.

This last story is riveting. I was hooked and my biggest wish for this film would have been an entire film about this girl, her father and her friends.

From not only an acting and emotional standpoint but from a sociologically interesting view, this is what “Babel” should have been about.

Kikuchi’s character constantly must deal with people who find her strange or pity her, all the while she is only looking for something real to hold onto.

While the other stories were interesting in their own right, I’m probably most down on the film for not seeing that this portion of the film was the heart.

Instead, Iñárritu (who has made some great films in recent years with “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”) went with the bankable decision of highlighting Pitt.

Follow me on this one. Arriaga wrote both of those other films and also last year’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”. His style appears to be creating multiple stories and then playing with the linearity of those stories.

I’m okay with that now and then … but every freakin’ time! And with “Babel”, it’s like he did it just to spite me. Thankfully, there’s only one thing done out of linear order but it’s that one scene that infuriates me.

Near the beginning of the film, the audience hears one side of a phone conversation and you can clearly make out what is said on both ends. Then towards the end of the film we get the other side, that of Pitt breaking down on the phone.

Why do we need this? We don’t.

But if Pitt wants an Oscar nomination, he won’t get it without a nice close-up and tears.

I know I’m being harsh but that’s how I see it. I’m a big fan of Pitt as an actor (and Jolie’s baby-daddy). He doesn’t need to do anything to impress me at this point, “12 Monkeys” and “Fight Club” showed me how talented he is.

Back to “Babel”, I know I’m hitting it pretty hard and I probably shouldn’t. It is a good film … if that film is about how people are connected worldwide by actions that may seem inconsequential.

It’s a small world. I get it. (Please don’t sue me Disney)

However, with a title like “Babel”, a tagline about being understood, and using multiple stories all littered with various languages – the movie should be about language and understanding one another, not a cinematic homage to Kevin Bacon.

I’m giving “Babel” a 3 out of 5. You’ve heard my many recommendations for making this a better film. If it had picked up on some of that, the rating would be much higher.

The actors are all top notch, the film had high production value and the Japan storyline was amazing. I just can’t ignore how little reason there was for the other two, or if those are the focus, just go ahead and tell that story straight up. Don’t rely on cute screenplay tricks to make something seem more important that it really is.

2 Comments:

Blogger The ZOMBIE said...

I didn't read your review, because I might end up seeing this movie and like to read your reviews afterward to see what you thought.

Anyway, Sarah pointed out to me that the director of this film also did Amores Perros - which we accidentally started watching the other night when there was nothing else on. That movie was FUCKED UP!

11/08/2006 06:20:00 AM  
Blogger Full Force said...

Yeah, it was. I actually prefer "Amores Perros" to its follow-up, "21 Grams". I'm interested in seeing "Babel", but I have to wonder how many times, especially in a row, we're going to see the "three-stories-intertwine" storytelling conceit from this director.

Maybe he just likes these scripts... which is fine. But just as Nolan makes good movies that move forwards as well as backwards, hopefully we'll see what Inarritu can do with different scripts in the future.

11/09/2006 07:56:00 PM  

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