Retro Review: Babel

There have been a lot of films these days that have featured many small parallel storylines that eventually collide and form a larger picture which is what the film is all about.

One of the pinnacles of that kind of storytelling was last year’s Oscar winner “Crash”.

“Crash” had a central theme and that was the analysis of racism seen through the eyes of many of the citizens of Los Angeles. The film’s theme pulled the characters together and the film became stronger with every scene even if it was telling a variety of different storylines.

This brings us to “Babel” which was conceived from the minds who brought us “21 Grams” which like “Crash” had several concurrent storylines but it’s theme was grief. This time the filmmakers are trying to focus on communication or language and how we all misinterpret, confuse and never quite understand each other even if we are speaking the same language.

“Babel” has four storylines going on relatively at the same time and eventually all interconnect even though, two take place in Morocco, one on the US-Mexican border and one in Japan.

The film’s central storyline involves an American woman (Cate Blanchett) being accidentally shot while touring the deserts of Morocco with her husband (Brad Pitt). The second story in Morocco focuses on the woman’s shooter and the police trying to locate the culprit.

The US-Mexican storyline focuses on a Mexican caregiver who brings her American charges across the border to attend a Mexican wedding.

In the Japanese storyline, a rebellious teen girl, who happens to be deaf mute, tries to fit in, find a boyfriend and eventually be loved. Her quest is difficult so she becomes desperate, misguided and at times tragic.

What do all these things have in common? How do they connect except through the central theme of language?
“Babel” as a film is exhausting to watch. If you aren’t trying to figure out what is going on in every story you are being pelted with shocking imagery that seems blatant and forced at times.

In some cases I felt that the filmmaker was just throwing everything he could at the wall to see what would stick. For me about half of the film stuck but I felt that the whole Japanese schoolgirl scenario was really forced and difficult to follow. I was intrigued by the Brad Pitt story and the Mexican border story but felt that the film was trying to do too much with the Japanese off shoot.

The film’s musical score and emphasis was draining on the mind and forced me to wince some of time as I was bogged down by its penetrating effect. The film’s music was like another character in the film that you just wanted to shut-up.

Everyone wants to know about Brad Pitt in this film. Pitt has been famous for being in some of the most obscure films while still being able to be an A-List star in Hollywood. This is definitely one of his obscure films.

Pitt is quite good as the distraught husband who is desperately trying to find help for his wife. The problem is that the film never allows for him to flourish or get his brilliant emotional moment.

There is just too much going on and that is a shame since his story is the best in the film.

I could really only see him maybe getting a nod for Best Supporting Actor. It would be a shame if he won that when I do think he has the potential to win Best Actor one day.

But if Denzel can do it maybe Pitt can too.

Like “21 Grams” before it, this film put me through an emotional roller-coaster but with this film I felt myself more wincing than crippled by the emotions on screen.

You almost needed a snow shovel to lift off some of the layers of raw emotion in “21 Grams” and the film succeeded because it was more intimate. I never felt that with “Babel”.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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