Eric D. Snider

Babel

Movie Review

Babel

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: October 27, 2006

 

Directed by:

Cast:

In case you didn't get the message from last year's "Crash," this year's "Babel" is here to remind you that we are all connected in this crazy world of ours, that violence ruins lives, and that we should stop being so mistrusting of foreigners. How you could possibly miss that point in a movie as obvious as "Crash," I don't know, but you definitely won't miss it after a movie as obvious as "Babel."

Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his writing partner, Guillermo Arriaga, made a fine team in the striking "Amores Perros." They followed it up with "21 Grams," which used the same non-linear storytelling and intersecting plots as "Perros" but with much less impact. Now, in "Babel," they're at it again, only with an unwelcome sense of self-importance and heavy-handedness. Each subsequent effort seems to dilute the formula a little more.

There are four stories of varying degrees of connectedness. In order of appearance, they concern: two young Moroccan boys, Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid), whose father gives them a rifle to help keep jackals away from the goat herd; Amelia (Adriana Barraza), a matronly Mexican housekeeper in San Diego who loves her employers' two young children as though they were her own; Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), American tourists in Morocco who are waylaid by a serious accident; and Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Tokyo high school student who is deaf and mute and painfully eager to explore her sexuality.

Separately, these stories are often engaging, at least in the film's first half. Amelia must take her young charges with her to her son's wedding, as their parents are gone longer than expected and Amelia can't find anyone else to babysit. Chieko flirts with drugs and other teenage ills, raging against her father since her mother's untimely death. Being deaf doesn't seem to bother her, but everything else does. And those two Moroccan boys are impish and childlike in ways that transcend all borders -- except they are children in a Muslim nation, and the epithet "terrorist" is always close at hand, ready to be applied if something unfortunate happens.

Curiously, in this exotic mix of actors and languages -- Spanish, Arabic and Japanese are all spoken (with subtitles) when appropriate -- it's the megawatt stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett who come off as least charismatic. It's partly intentional, as the two white, privileged characters are meant to be shocked to discover bad things can happen to them, too, and thus to be out of place in the "foreign" world. But it cannot have been on purpose that when the film is over, Pitt and Blanchett are the first to fade from your memory.

Eventually, their blandness spreads to the other characters, who become uninteresting due to repetition. About 100 minutes of the film are moderately engaging; the remaining 42 are redundant and drawn-out, with nearly everyone's misery being compounded by his or her own poor choices. Furthermore, Iñárritu becomes indulgent, lingering on scenes far longer than necessary, extending sequences beyond their natural limits. What is contemplative and meaningful at first becomes tiresome when you dwell on it.

Apart from some visually arresting images (at which Iñárritu has always excelled), the film has little to offer, and it's even sadder when you consider how far Iñárritu and Garriaga have fallen since "Amores Perros." That film had a crackling plot involving several sympathetic, likable characters. This one has a slow, shuffling story involving people whose miseries are often obscure and whose personalities don't inspire affinity -- and then the film is burdened further with ponderous piety. I'm thinking Iñárritu has started to believe his own press.

Grade: C

Rated R, a fair amount of harsh profanity, some graphic nudity and a little sexuality, a little blood and moderate violence

2 hrs., 22 min.

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This item has 9 comments

  1. MacLennanRemarks says:

    I certainly didn't love the movie either...but didn't you at least feel affected and still thinking about the picture long after it was over? Perhaps I benefitted from having a Q & A with the director that left me thinking more than anything.

  2. IrishMatt says:

    Got this movie through NetFlix and my DVD player never showed the subtitles so I watched thinking my not knowing what was being said was the reason it had some acclaim to it. Yeah, seriously, I watched it with NO SUBTITLES and yet I was still able to figure out the plots for everything going on. I can only imagine how lame this movie would have been if I had been reading the subtitles that should have been there. Not kidding, if you have to watch this turn the subs off, have some friends over and play the "guess what's going on" game. You'll be surprised that you can talk through the whole movie and still know exactly what's going on....I give it a D if you use the subs and a C if you don't...

  3. Renee says:

    Got the DVD from Netflix and was disappointed that there were no subtitles. I just don't understand how this happens. What a waste!!!

  4. melizer says:

    In case anyone is dissuaded from renting this DVD due to the comments here reporting no subtitles, I thought I would note that I've rented the DVD from Blockbuster and the subtitles play automatically. Even if you go to the setup menu and choose "none" for subtitles, there are still subtitles shown on the screen for the non-English portions. I wasn't able to get it to play WITHOUT displaying subtitles as mentioned above.

  5. Vicki says:

    I rented it as well, and it came with no subtites, but I thought it was meant to be like that, and i was still touched by everything. It still got to me when the boy was shot, and I could understand what was going on for some reason. Wouldnt say it was the best film but it is good, and i understood the lot!!!! Better without subtitles!

    xx

  6. Cedar says:

    This is one of the most BORING.........SLOWEST movies I have ever seen. Just a waste of film.

    Don't waste your time or $

  7. pleatedpants says:

    i did the no subtitles bit to, totally by accident, im not even interested in watching it with subtitles

  8. Triscuit says:

    I feel like I'm watching Crash pt.II. But I must say this is far more compelling.

  9. Dougrad says:

    I thought it was a pretty compelling film, even though it wasn't as good as those other "every-story-is-connected" type films like "Traffic," "Little Children" or "21 Grams." However, I didn't see how the deaf-mute Japanese girl's story line tied in with the other three story lines of the film. Maybe I missed something.

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