Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Babel is similar in tone and structure and quality to the recent Crash movie, which I gave a pass on this site because I was still teaching ENGL102. I thought its sledgehammer subtlety in dealing with race and class made it a perfect teaching tool for dimwitted college freshmen.
I'm no longer teaching dimwits, so I can call Babel what it is: manipulative, meandering, and at times egregiously bad. In attempting to make us all feel collective guilt at the unintended consequences of our actions, the filmmakers spread their thin soap opera plot across three continents and 2 and a half hours. Brad Pitt is still a two-trick pony who recites his lines granite-faced or contorts himself into a physical gesture that means rage/hatred/anguish depending on the context; you know Pitt's really trying to emote when he busts out the finger pointing/wagging. Cate Blanchett is a fine actress who phones in her performance here and spends much of the film lying on a carpet.
Babel is not a total loss, however. Rinko Kikuchi is excellent, as are all of the Moroccan, Japanese, and Latin actors. The theme is handled inelegantly, but at least it's handled; as the world grows smaller communication becomes easier and misinterpretation more common and more critical. This may be a belly-flop into the pool rather than a reverse three-and-a-half somersaults with tuck, but at least we get wet.
My favorite parts were silent moments--a Tokyo disco from a deaf-mute perspective. The Tokyo skyline at the end. Dogs eating waste at dawn after a Mexican wedding party. These are beautiful sequences. Perhaps 45 minutes of cuts would have made this a more positive review? Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has talent and grand ambitions; I expect marvelous things from him down the line.
Next up? The Last King of Scotland.