Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: "Babel" Stumbles on its Ambitions

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 42 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

Babel (2006)
Running time: 143 minutes (2 hours, 23 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language, and some drug use
DIRECTOR: Alejandro González Iñárritu
WRITERS: Guillermo Arriaga; based upon an idea by Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro González Iñárritu
PRODUCERS: Jon Kilik, Steve Golin, and Alejandro González Iñárritu
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione

2007 Academy Award winner and Best Picture nominee


Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Elle Fanning, and Nathan Gamble

Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), an American couple, are vacationing in Morocco when Susan falls victim to a random act of violence. From that event unfolds a web of interconnected people across four countries – the United States, Mexico, Morocco, and Japan. Two Moroccan boys find themselves thrust into an international event. In the U.S., Amelia (Adriana Barraza), an undocumented Mexican worker living in the states for 16 years, works as a nanny. She crosses the border back into Mexico with her two charges, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), the children of the Richard and Susan, and finds trouble at the border between two nations. In Japan, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf mute teenaged girl, tries to make an intimate connection with a series of boys and men. This disparate group of people shares a common destiny.

In his film, Babel, director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams) examines the necessity and difficulty of human communication when the human race is separated by the gulf of clashing cultures and the sometimes sprawling distances. With writer Guillermo Arriaga, who also worked with him on 21 Grams and Amores Perros, Iñárritu weaves a convincing, if overly long tale, that makes his point about human communication. There is a commonality people share, but when we most need to communicate, language, customs, politics, and distances are often the severe static in the lines of communication.

There is no question of Iñárritu’s skills as a filmmaker. He draws from his actors the most subtle and intense performances. He guides each actor towards performance as truth, and each actor seems so genuine as his or her character that you might buy that fictional character as a real person. Brad Pitt, seemingly always in a battle to prove that he’s more than just a pretty face, is an actor capable of sincere emotions, and Iñárritu encourages Pitt to test himself – to be honestly vulnerable instead of being macho pretending to be exposed.

Iñárritu’s best work in the film is probably guiding Adriana Barraza as the nanny and Rinko Kikuchi as the deaf mute teen. They give the kind of great performances that make unknowns like them shine as if they were the brightest movie stars. For one film, these two women are as good as a Meryl Streep or Kate Winslet. Barraza and Kikuchi’s performances emphasize another notion that Babel plays with, and that’s the idea of someone being a stranger in a strange land in their own homeland.

For all the skill and talent that goes into creating great performances and transforming a narrative about connectivity into a truly international film, Iñárritu and Arriaga have created four storylines that individually need more time. Each one could be its own movie, but forced together and loosely connected, it all feels a bit artificial. It’s not that Babel is an insincere effort or a bad film. It’s quite good, but some of the movie feels forced. In fact, the Japanese storyline is tacked on and would be better as its own separate film.

Babel is an ambitious misstep because the filmmakers could have made the same points with a shorter film and fewer storylines. Still, I can give them credit for having a grand and bold vision that makes Babel more than most films ever try to be.

7 of 10

2007 Academy Awards: 1 win: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla); 6 nominations: Best achievement in directing (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Best achievement in editing (Stephen Mirrione), Best Motion Picture of the Year (Jon Kilik, Steve Golin, and Alejandro González Iñárritu), Best Performance by an actress in a supporting role (Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi) Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Guillermo Arriaga)

2007 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: film music, 6 nominations: film, directing, editing, original screenplay, sound, cinematography

2006 Cannes Film Festival: 3 wins: director, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Iñárritu), and Technical Grand Prize (Stephen Mirrione for editing); 1 nomination for the “Golden Palm (Iñárritu)

2007 Golden Globes: 1 win for “Best Motion Picture-Drama; 6 nominations: director-motion picture, score-motion picture, supporting actor-motion picture (Brad Pitt), supporting actress-motion picture (Barraza, Kikuchi), and screenplay-motion picture

Wednesday, February 28, 2007



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