by Andrew James
This story is really four-fold. We jump to and from each storyline; abruptly in some cases (especially in the beginning - I was annoyed at leaving one storyline to go to another just as I was getting involved. A complaint that actually has no merit since as time wore on, I realized the necessity to do this). Two kids in a small, Moroccon village fire their rifle at a tour bus to test it's range and accuracy. On board, two American tourists (Pitt and Blanchet) feel the devastating effects of that gun shot; which become an international crisis with the possibility of terrorism at it's roots. The couple's children end up in the care of their Mexican, live-in maid and her nephew (Bernal); which leads to some devastating consequences. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Japan, a teenage, deaf-mute struggles with issues of acceptance and lack of male friendships and we learn how her life indirectly affects the villagers in this Moroccan village.
What's brilliant about this storyline is its seemingly confusing, but actually very simple timeline. We've seen countless movies with multiple storylines all happening at the same time (Pulp Fiction, Go), then as the story unravels, we see how they are loosely connected to each other in a meaningless, albeit interesting and fun way. In Babel, we already know how things are connected and instead of the storylines intersecting, we see how one directly or indirectly causes the other. In this case, a simple act of kindness on the other side of the globe leads to an international crisis, while simultaneously stranding two children in the middle of the desert.
My gripes with the movie are few and far between, but it does have some weaknesses. For one, the length. Over two and half hours is a long time for my back to take sitting down. There were a few instances I can think off the top of my head that could've been shaved off to reduce the overall length of the film. Having said that, I did hear comments from other movie patrons that "it sure didn't seem like two and a half hours." I would have to agree. Once the drama and intensity of Babel begins to take hold, time flies. So this is a minor complaint, but one you should be aware of.
Besides the "butterfly effect" storyline, we see how language and culture can wrap us in a shell. But when we're forced to break free of that shell, we witness the communication breakdown and that the world is a confusing and chaotic place of which we have no control. One doesn't really have anything to do with the other, so I was left struggling with which idea I should be paying attention to and in the end I decided that the language barrier issue had very little to do with, or even really mattered to the storyline; the Japanese portion of the story specifically. The fact that the girl lived in Japan, couldn't speak or hear and can't find a boyfriend was completely irrelevant to the drama of the rest of the movie.
There are so many small pockets of brilliance sprinkled throughout the film. Just a bunch of small scenes or happenings that are absolutely eye opening and poignant. From Pitt and Blanchett's character's finding love and happiness in the most uncomfortable situation to the struggles of an illegal immigrant caught between worlds and dangerously close to death. Also, the filmmaker shows us exceptionally, how the world looks through the eyes of a deaf person. I could list forever each of these great scenes and their visual artistry and profound dramatic impact.
All of the performances are terrific. Although probably no oscar nods (in the acting category) for anyone here, each actor tackles their role with gusto. No single actor is the main star. Pretty much all of them have equal screen time and importance. I've learned that the roles of the kids and family in Morocco are actually non-actors. Inarritu found them days before shooting was to start in the southern parts of the Sahara by announcing to the people over crackly loudspeakers that they were looking for people to be in a movie. Incredible. Similar to United 93, I've realized that this tactic of no-name, indeed even non-actors in a movie can make the film infinitely more interesting and believable.
With a gripping story arc and ideas that shatter preconceived notions, Babel is unquestionably one of the best films of the year and will very likely be up for best picture. In fact, I can almost guarantee it will be. I'd even go a step further in saying it's likely that it will win. As my most anticipated movie of the year, I was concerned that Babel was going to let me down. Thankfully, it did not and it exceeded my expectaions. Though it's not showing on many screens, I highly recommend looking for this film in your area and taking in a screening. You won't regret it. And who knows? Maybe somebody's life depends on it.
IMDb.com - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE for Babel