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Overall Rating
2.81

Awesome: 16.52%
Worth A Look: 13.91%
Average24.35%
Pretty Bad24.35%
Total Crap: 20.87%

9 reviews, 61 user ratings


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Babel
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Shot Heard Around The World"
2 stars

When you see a magician pull off a incredibly complex trick for the first time, you are likely to be so stunned and surprised by the results that you can almost convince yourself that you have actually seen the impossible appear before your eyes. The second time you see it, you might still be impressed with the presentation but the element of surprise is gone and you are likely to start picking up on the ordinary mechanics behind the extraordinary illusion. If you see the same trick for a third time, you will see virtually nothing but those mechanics and after watching the magician go through his now-familiar paces, you are likely to wonder what it was that you ever saw in the trick in the first place.

This, in a nutshell, is the central flaw behind the films from the team of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. When their first collaboration, “Amores Perros,” appeared in 2000, critics and audiences were captivated by the complex narrative structure that deftly juggled the interwoven stories of three wildly different people whose lives became connected through a tragic car accident. Their second film, 2003's “21 Grams,” also featured a complex narrative structure involving a trio of wildly different people whose live became connected through a tragic car accident and while some noted at the time that the duo seemed to be repeating themselves, most were too captivated by the performances from Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro to notice. Now with their third (and presumably final) collaboration, the eagerly anticipated “Babel,” the seams are beginning to show and while they have made some cosmetic changes to the format–they are now juggling four different interwoven stories in three different continents and the incident that links them is only peripherally related to an auto–it doesn’t take a hard-core auteurist to realize that they are essentially serving us the same thing for the third time and it has become increasingly difficult to swallow.

The film opens in Morocco as a local man purchases a hunting rifle that was recently acquired by a neighbor. His two sons set off one day to go hunting and vow to bring back at least three jackals but the hunt does not go well. Frustrated, one of them decides to test the rifle to see if it actually works or not and from the top of a mountain ridge, he nonchalantly takes aim at a bus traveling up the road far below. Amazingly, the bullet indeed hits the bus and, scared about what they have done, the two hide the rifle and hurry back home without telling anyone about what they have done. What they don’t realize is that the bullet found its way into the neck of Susan (Cate Blanchett), an American woman who has traveled to the region in an effort to patch up her shaky marriage to husband Richard (Brad Pitt). The wound is serious but the bus is far away from any medical facility so Richard convinces the driver to take the entire tour group to a nearby village and wait with him until help can arrive. Unfortunately, the shooting is amplified into an international incident when it is assumed to be a terrorist act and the act of sending in help for Susan becomes immensely complicated. Meanwhile, the other tourists, not unreasonably, want to get out of the region as soon as possible and finally tell Richard that they are leaving in 30 minutes–with or without him and Susan.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Richard and Susan’s two young children (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) are in the care of Amelia (Adriana Barraza), their Mexican nanny. It is the day of the wedding of Amelia’s son in Mexico and when she is unable to find someone to watch the kids for the day, she decides to take them with her across the border to the festivities along with her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal). While returning that evening, there is trouble at the border when it turns out that Amelia neglected to bring along the paperwork indicating that she is acting as the guardian for the children. Tensions escalate and Santiago impulsively does a stupid act that eventually leaves Amelia and the kids stranded in the middle of nowhere while he speeds off to evade pursuit by the Border Patrol.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world in Tokyo, we are introduced to Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute teenager who is going through more than her share of adolescent tribulations. She has recently lost her mother, is unable/unwilling to communicate with her businessman father (Koji Yakusho) and deals with the confusion surrounding her current sexual awakening in odd and disconcerting ways–in the middle of a crowded hangout, she surreptitiously shows a group of snigger boy exactly what she has (or doesn’t have) underneath her school skirt. When a policeman comes by wanting to talk to her father, Chieko assumes that it is regarding the long-held suspicions that he had something to do with her mother’s death. She invites the cop to come by later that evening–at a time when her father will be out–and offers him more than just information in an effort to finally feel some real contact with another person. (And yes, this story does have some connection with the others.)

The title “Babel” comes, of course, from the Biblical story of the tower in the town of Babylon that was used to communicate with God until it was destroyed when God separated the human race into different races and languages. Ergo, the overriding theme of the film is the inability of people–even husbands and wives or parents and children–to communicate with each other and the tragedies that can result from that inability. The problem is that while Inarritu and Arriaga have figured out the overriding theme of the film, they have neglected to provide compelling stories to back it up. The four tales of woe that they unspool just aren’t very interesting–with the possible exception of the Japanese segment, none of these tales is strong enough to stand alone as a fully developed story–and rely a little too heavily on the same kind of melodramatic tricks (such as the two American children suddenly disappearing after the nanny goes searching for help) that also hindered “21 Grams” to a degree. As for the intercutting and time-shifting between the segments, it increasingly feels less like a legitimate and organic narrative approach (as it did in “Amores Perros”) and more like something that they have to do because it is expected of them at this point. It hurts the film because instead of being swept away by the varying storylines on their own merits, we spend most of our time trying to connect the dots between the storylines involving Brad Pitt and the naked Japanese girl or idly speculating how uncomfortable things are probably going to be between Amelia and Santiago at the next family reunion.

What does work in “Babel” are the performances that Inarritu gets from his cast of well-known stars and novices alike. Over the years, Brad Pitt has developed from just another charismatic pretty face into one of the more interesting actors around–especially when he is given a role that gives him something to do other than look handsome (such as his Oscar-nominated turn in “12 Monkeys” and his collaborations with David Fincher)–and he is pretty powerful here as an ordinary man desperately doing everything in his power to keep his wife alive and raging against all of the obstacles put in his path. (That said, I could have lived without his teary scene towards the end, a bit that restates something that we have already heard and seems to exist only to provide him with a suitable Oscar clip.) Although she basically has the Mr. Orange part, in that she spends most of her screen time slowly bleeding out on a dirty floor, Blanchett also gets a few fierce moments as well when her character is conscious. The normally likable Bernal also makes a vivid impression as the hot-headed Santiago, a guy who has absolutely no qualms about consigning his own aunt and two young children to an almost inevitable sad fate if it allows him to save his own skin. However, the standout work of the film is the one from relative newcomer Rinko Kikuchi as Chieko. To hear it described, the role of Chieko sounds so portentous and laden with symbolic baggage as to be absolutely unbearable but Kikuchi cuts through all of that with a performance that is startlingly direct and true in a manner that is otherwise lacking in the rest of the film.

“Babel” is a film that starts off with great promise and then winds up playing things relatively safe–there are moments at the beginning that suggest the ambitious scope D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic “Intolerance” but it soon turns into something more akin to a multinational “Crash.” Perhaps it is a good thing after all that Inarritu and Arriaga have had a well-publicized falling-out that will presumably preclude them from working together again anytime soon. At this point, they have proven time and again that they can pull off the cinematic equivalent of one of those guys who used to keep a bunch of plates spinning in the air on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” However, they have yet to prove that they can tell a simple story in a straightforward and compelling manner without any tricks and until they do, I can’t see how they can be regarded as anything other than gifted one-trick ponies.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15013&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/03/06 16:05:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell bleak but potent 4 stars
11/19/11 Chris. Have had a rash of movies I don't want to finish recently, finished this one. 4 stars
7/26/11 daveyt didn't get a pay-off after sitting through it all, just too random and disconnected for me 3 stars
9/01/09 Adam Film was just bleak. Very crafted view fo tragic events and consequences. Poor story links. 3 stars
8/16/09 tony Rubbish. made for highbrow dinner party arty types with nothing better to talk about 1 stars
10/30/08 David Babel calls for listening, if you say you did, and you didn't get the idea, then you didn't 5 stars
9/04/08 Alexandru Totir Very interesting movie and I like how they combined the scenes to make something unique 5 stars
6/10/08 mr.mike Very good , sustained my interest throughout. 4 stars
6/01/08 Leon Unusual and absorbing; well- dramatised C'est la Vie! of life's vagaries 4 stars
5/27/08 Matt Crap. Couldn't even get the bus-shooting scene right. 1 stars
5/25/08 Joh Hansen continuity problem with the bus going L to R and KB shot in L clavicle! 3 stars
4/21/08 Dhanu great 5 stars
4/05/08 stephanie willis enjoyed - especially the Afghan boys - thought they did a fine job - always like Blancett 5 stars
3/10/08 Jayme Isaacs Good Movie 4 stars
3/05/08 ladavies some of it worked, some didn't (Brad Pitt's storyline) 3 stars
9/28/07 Noelle Stephens It was an ok movie. It would have been better without the Japanese story line. Too much! 3 stars
9/25/07 Lenore Disappointing, shallow, but thankfully, good environments. 2 stars
9/01/07 goatfarmer Frustrating movie, beautifully shot, about frustrated people behaving recklessly 3 stars
7/11/07 wil j. Study of fateful global human interconnections; even amongst strangers who will never meet 5 stars
7/11/07 VIVEK KRISHNAN GOOD 3 stars
5/20/07 luke this movie was so stupid i would have rather eaten a cake and thrown it up 1 stars
5/14/07 Jonathan Holmes The best film of 2006, and a pity to those who can't understand Inarrtiu's geinus 5 stars
5/01/07 action movie fan good quartet in one. shooting of wife in morocco the most gripping of the bunch 4 stars
4/23/07 JeromeBosch Incredible acting, gorgeously lensed, a brilliant movie. 5 stars
4/13/07 fools♫gold That old-school drama I won't watch again; "21 Grams" was better. 3 stars
4/06/07 Anthony incredible- moving, challenging, brilliant writing and acting- loved it 5 stars
3/12/07 Jose M. Terrific and Heartfelt film . Dawn Learn how to spell against . 5 stars
3/10/07 Dickman Fragmentation of 4 pretentioius half-stories makes a kid's jigsaw puzzle, not a drama. 3 stars
3/08/07 Butt Third time is not the charm for Inarritu - boring 3 stars
3/03/07 Joe Smaltz Strange movie, strange plot, strange casting no story line 1 stars
2/27/07 Veronica Price There is nothing to explain in this moronic film. Absolutely stupid. 1 stars
2/26/07 Thomas Brown Best movie of 2006! No use trying to explain that to people who just don't get it. 5 stars
2/25/07 Stephen Drinkard Excellent film. I feel sorry for the people who couldn't understand this film. 5 stars
2/25/07 R.W.Welch Asian thread a little weak; otherwise pretty solid. 4 stars
2/15/07 ES A more accurate title would have been- 'Really Stupid Decisions' 2 stars
2/13/07 robert zimmerman probably the best film i've ever seen 5 stars
1/28/07 Cassandra Gleason Vacuous and slow-paced. Trite. Waste of 2.5 hours. 1 stars
1/22/07 Tony Vawser powerful, intense, involving, rewarding 5 stars
1/22/07 Monday Morning Only depression-junkies would like this drawn-out piece of shite. 1 stars
1/21/07 TheReelMcCoy About 30 minutes worth of "high concept" packed into two hours. 1 stars
1/18/07 Mark Iñarritu is a fraud and Gael Garcia must go back to the mexican soap operas. 1 stars
12/27/06 Agent Sands Especially right now in time in terms of both politics & everyday people, Babel's important 5 stars
12/16/06 Elizabeth Amazing! 5 stars
12/16/06 Bob Cetlin Great review of an awful movie. Impossible to enjoy even the beautiful scenery. 1 stars
11/25/06 joe total crup 1 stars
11/25/06 Greg The movie is reflective of the dichotomy and ethnocentric predicaments in the world. 4 stars
11/21/06 marie i really like it, especially the japanesse girl story! 5 stars
11/19/06 jcjs i liked it bunches and my friend didn't...lots didn't like this show...no problem i liked 4 stars
11/18/06 Ramblingdriver A tax write-off for movie studio / paycheck for actors 1 stars
11/17/06 george good idea, but badly executed. Too long + depressing.Shouldn't have cast any famous actors. 1 stars
11/17/06 FilmGoer pretty good....but what was in that final note 4 stars
11/15/06 Valerie The kid who shot the rifle was the best character/actor 2 stars
11/15/06 Jamethon I agree, Iñárritu needs to stop repeating the same formula over and over again. 1 stars
11/14/06 alex annoying and tedious as hell, twice as long as it needs to be 1 stars
11/14/06 John M Depressing, waste of time. I want my 2 hours back. 1 stars
11/14/06 Gayle Did like this movie. Would not recommend it. Brad Pitt was horrible. Hard to follow. 2 stars
11/13/06 mwpmd A total waste! Sorry excuse for political commentary and entertainment. 1 stars
11/13/06 J.Pet Brad Pitt, should consider early retirement!!! 1 stars
11/13/06 Mauricio Excellent trama, 5 stars
11/13/06 John I love this movie, very good. 5 stars
11/06/06 Timber The exquisitely tramatising need to communite: Keep this concept in your mind throughout. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  27-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Feb-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-Dec-2006



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