Babel (2006)
Babel (2006)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 23 min.

Release Date: November 10th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu Actors: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Gael Garcia Bernal, Monica Del Carmen, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Pena, Rinko Kikuchi, Koji Yakusho

 


 

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ne thousand dirhams (or 500 and a goat) purchases a rifle and 300 cartridges for a Moroccan goat herder to fend off jackals. His two sons are the first to put the weapon to the test, taking it out into the rocky wilderness alongside a flock of ruminants, to shoot at rocks and cliffs. When cars can be seen at what seems like miles away, the duo aim into the distance, fairly certain that their bullets couldn’t possibly reach the vehicles scurrying along like ants.

Back in the United States, in San Diego, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) babysits the Jones’ two young children (Nathan Gamble and Elle Fanning) while their parents are away. When her presence is unexpectedly required at her son’s wedding that afternoon, Amelia is forced to take her charges with her across the border to Mexico, convincing herself that they’re well-behaved enough not to be a nuisance. As it turns out, their parents, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), are in northern Africa, attempting to distract themselves with a bit of a vacation. But shortly after they board a bus, journeying near Tazarine, a bullet whizzes through the window, striking Susan in the neck.

A sullen mood is established early on; this is an ensemble piece, spanning all across the globe, but concentrating on bitterly discontented people (it’s comparable in many ways to “Crash” from a couple of years before). A third setting finds teenaged, deaf, Japanese girl Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) dealing with her father, pressure from her friends, and the lack of acceptance by peers – including the boy she likes. This tale contains the same gloom; no one is happy with their situations, and they’re about to become complicated by spontaneous conflicts. At the same time, the various groups of characters find their predicaments exacerbated by language barriers or difficulties in communication – hence the title.

As is typical with director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s works, tremendous attention is paid to locations, people, expressions, and background details. Even transitions between scenes involve considerable segues of establishing shots – ranging from crowds to skies to wildlife to inanimate objects. But everything is slower because of it; the camera observes at lengths elements that develop the characters but stifle the action. Of course, the film is about dramatic interactions, fueled by meddlesome hormones (or normal sexuality surfacing in awkward forms), fearful desperation, cultural shocks, and failures in communication – sometimes resulting in the loss of tension between harrowing disasters.

Fortunately, the acting is exceptional, allowing the loosely connected storylines to garner greater gravity. Emotions run high and are quite convincing. But the largely unchanging saturninity is always lurking; it’s difficult to be moved by static downs with almost no ups. Even when the cinematography amuses, or when creative editing techniques demonstrate Chieko’s deafness, it’s the pervasive malaise that prevails. Eventually, many of the conundrums spiral out of control into matters of life-or-death, escalating the way they do most frequently in movies, culminating in severe, equally cinematic consequences, here with lessons to be imparted – even ones that aren’t congruous with others, or ones that can be seen coming a mile away. But it ultimately takes too long wrapping things up; there’s enough content here for more than one picture, which makes Chieko’s supporting yarn, in particular, unnecessary and unfitting. Overall, the drama is potent, but the entertainment value is sporadic at best – though the closing shots that resolve the main storyline (the one the film should have stuck with all along) are nicely poignant. Sadly, there are multiple endings, and not all of them are as satisfying.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10