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.


MarcH said...

God how I hated this movie. Reminds me of people who put a yellow "support the troops" ribbon on their car: narrowing down the whole world's situation into a fucking bumper sticker, and then smugly driving around with it as though you've now done your part. Everything this shittily-acted B-movie had to say was either obvious, false, or pea-brained.

geoff said...

Agreed. Adding more continents and characters doesn't make up for absent substance.

geoff said...

Oh--and the scene with the woman in red dress and heels in the desert? HILARIOUSLY BAD. And it goes on for hours.

Seth Anderson said...

I didn't hate this movie, but the only thing interesting to me was the cinematography. I wonder how they got the tones and colors, especially in the desert. In another lifetime, I would have interned with Sven Nykvist, and become a cameraman in Hollywood. Sometimes I watch a film with the sound off altogether, and just pay attention to the structure as revealed through lens focus and cross-cutting.

The plot of Babel was laughable though.

geoff said...

I agree about the cinematography, which made me reel in (no pun intended) the vitriol bubbling up before I wrote this review. Those shimmering shots of Tokyo were awe-inspiring, as was the work in the desert.

Probably all CGI.

John Vondracek said...

color correction tools in post are pretty sophisticated nowadays. color-schmolor.

it stunk. it was pompous. and worst of all, it was completely unimportant or memorable

(although this is just MY opinion... the other half of our household enjoyed it, although flawed)

:) jv

geoff said...

Both members of our household disliked it. The fish and the bird, too.