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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.52%
Worth A Look: 13.91%
Just Average24.35%
Pretty Crappy24.35%
Sucks: 20.87%

9 reviews, 61 user ratings

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by William Goss

"A Failure To Communicate"
3 stars

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: in Morocco, two sons are given a rifle with which to protect their herd from jackals; however, an estranged American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) find themselves on the receiving end of a stray bullet and in an ensuing medical and bureaucratic crisis; their children back home in the States are soon spirited away by their caretaker (Adriana Barraza) to her son’s Mexican wedding; meanwhile, a deaf-mute Japanese schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi) remains distant with her father (Kôji Yakusho) following her mother’s suicide and pines for sexual fulfillment among peers, all the while maintaining a most tenuous association with the aforementioned incidents. The punchline to this extensive cosmic joke? Life sucks.

With Babel, writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu and co-writer Guillermo Arriaga have completed their informal thematic trilogy, which began with 2000’s Amores Perros and 2003’s 21 Grams. Each film has entwined several narrative threads in a non-linear structure while tackling weightier elements of human life and interaction; each one has also managed to garner an impressive amount of critical acclaim and awards consideration upon its release. This time out, the duo has considerably expanded their scope with storylines spanning the globe, filming on multiple continents and in several languages, and while their ambition is certainly admirable, it is a shame that Babel is rarely as compelling a tale as they clearly hoped it would be.

Although it doesn’t fall prey to the severe contrivance that many of its interconnected brethren do, the film essentially applies, say, the moral principle of Crash on the remote scale of Syriana, and then implements the subsequent dynamic with equal degrees of deliberation and detachment. One can’t shake the faint feeling of premeditation that shapes the various trials and tribulations of its characters, boiling down to a grandly tragic melodrama about the adverse effects of human interaction and the frustration of futility in foreign circumstances. In a movie concerning several strangers in strange lands united by a shot heard ‘round the world, Iñárritu and Arriaga seem eager to concoct a handful of admittedly feasible worst-case scenarios with which to put their characters – and the audience – through the ringer, an approach that isn’t too terribly distant from the nature of recent horror fare.

That doesn’t quite make Babel some variant of Saw with subtitles, plumbing the depths of the human soul with an art-house sensibility, but the overall impression is that only after a two-hour showcase of agony, misery, and suffering worldwide can hope emerge for at least some of the characters. The story is of many facets, yet the subjects are of stubbornly few dimensions, since each and every one becomes a victim of pomp and circumstance. Despite the international nature of the proceedings, ethnocentric elements still sneak in, with the rich white Americans faring relatively better than their Mexican and Moroccan counterparts (a peculiar touch, considering the Mexican heritage of the filmmakers). Such cruel-to-be-kind tactics resonate with all the depth of a Verizon slogan and teeter dangerously close on the dramatic spectrum towards exploitation, only to be salvaged from such an insensitive fate by its ensemble.

Pitt and Blanchett prove quite capable of displaying distress, particularly as she spends most of her screen time on her back and barely able to speak. The pair’s arguable spotlight scene is where he attempts to assist her as she relieves herself into a pan, and while it doesn’t elicit neither the sighs nor the rolling eyes that it so easily could have, it also fails to extract a sense of anguish any more than the rest of the film can. Barraza conveys the loyalty of years devoted to the same family and the vulnerability of her citizenship status, although an inexplicably reckless decision at Customs by nephew Gael Garcia Bernal ends up placing her and the children (Nathan Gamble and Elle Fanning, less creepy than sister Dakota) in a perilous state of affairs. Yakusho recycles his sullen personality in the original Shall We Dance? and Cure to adequate effect, while Kikuchi manages just as well as her peers with sign and body language substituting for vocal emoting.

Having both contributed to Perros and Grams, Rodrigo Prieto’s ostensibly spontaneous cinematography and Gustavo Santaolalla’s elegiac score help maintain the continuity of the trilogy’s melancholic milieu, yet their participation can’t make tolerating two hours and twenty-two minutes of tragedy any less arduous. Compared to the prior films, the editing is moderately less demanding, with events still shuffled but clearly divided by their occurrence either before or after the fateful shooting. Two midpoint scenes in particular validate the grueling pace: one is the gratuitously lengthy Mexican wedding celebration, while the other takes place inside a Tokyo nightclub where the blaring sound of Earth, Wind, and Fire cuts out to demonstrate that, yes, the deaf-mute character is still deaf, just as the audience practically is. Apparently, the volume was indeed turned up to distracting decibel levels per studio instruction, and while the objective of the din is respectable, the execution is less than effective.

'Babel' is a loud movie in many respects, with its subjects flailing about and running their mouths in the name of that poetic notion of human interaction. It’s busy, yet rarely urgent; noisy, but never saying quite as much as Iñárritu and Arriaga intend to get across. The result is a rote rumination along the lines of “woe is me, woe is you, no matter where you are or what you speak”: well-acted, borderline self-righteous, and just as disconnected as its theme purports. In other words, it’s the feel-bad-to-feel-good movie of the season.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15013&reviewer=409
originally posted: 11/01/06 10:02:21
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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

9/13/17 morris campbell bleak but potent 4 stars
11/18/11 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
8/31/09 Adam Film was just bleak. Very crafted view fo tragic events and consequences. Poor story links. 3 stars
8/15/09 tony Rubbish. made for highbrow dinner party arty types with nothing better to talk about 1 stars
10/29/08 David Babel calls for listening, if you say you did, and you didn't get the idea, then you didn't 5 stars
9/03/08 Alexandru Totir Very interesting movie and I like how they combined the scenes to make something unique 5 stars
6/09/08 mr.mike Very good , sustained my interest throughout. 4 stars
5/31/08 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
5/24/08 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
4/04/08 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
3/04/08 ladavies some of it worked, some didn't (Brad Pitt's storyline) 3 stars
9/27/07 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
8/31/07 goatfarmer Frustrating movie, beautifully shot, about frustrated people behaving recklessly 3 stars
7/10/07 wil j. Study of fateful global human interconnections; even amongst strangers who will never meet 5 stars
7/10/07 VIVEK KRISHNAN GOOD 3 stars
5/19/07 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
4/30/07 action movie fan good quartet in one. shooting of wife in morocco the most gripping of the bunch 4 stars
4/22/07 JeromeBosch Incredible acting, gorgeously lensed, a brilliant movie. 5 stars
4/12/07 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
3/11/07 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
3/07/07 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
2/26/07 Veronica Price There is nothing to explain in this moronic film. Absolutely stupid. 1 stars
2/25/07 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
2/24/07 R.W.Welch Asian thread a little weak; otherwise pretty solid. 4 stars
2/14/07 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
1/27/07 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
1/21/07 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
1/17/07 Mark Iñarritu is a fraud and Gael Garcia must go back to the mexican soap operas. 1 stars
12/26/06 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
12/15/06 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
11/24/06 Greg The movie is reflective of the dichotomy and ethnocentric predicaments in the world. 4 stars
11/20/06 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
11/16/06 george good idea, but badly executed. Too long + depressing.Shouldn't have cast any famous actors. 1 stars
11/16/06 FilmGoer pretty good....but what was in that final note 4 stars
11/14/06 Valerie The kid who shot the rifle was the best character/actor 2 stars
11/14/06 Jamethon I agree, Iñárritu needs to stop repeating the same formula over and over again. 1 stars
11/13/06 alex annoying and tedious as hell, twice as long as it needs to be 1 stars
11/13/06 John M Depressing, waste of time. I want my 2 hours back. 1 stars
11/13/06 Gayle Did like this movie. Would not recommend it. Brad Pitt was horrible. Hard to follow. 2 stars
11/12/06 mwpmd A total waste! Sorry excuse for political commentary and entertainment. 1 stars
11/12/06 J.Pet Brad Pitt, should consider early retirement!!! 1 stars
11/12/06 Mauricio Excellent trama, 5 stars
11/12/06 John I love this movie, very good. 5 stars
11/05/06 Timber The exquisitely tramatising need to communite: Keep this concept in your mind throughout. 5 stars
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  27-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Feb-2007



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