Some films can be intensely personal. Written and directed by one individual, the stories are fairly long in runtime and epic in terms of hopes and dreams, with characters that intertwine either coincidentally or a little bit more directly. They always seem to have a big name marquee star or two in them and always end on a message of hope or optimism.
Take the case of Babel. Written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who were the creative team behind the Amores Perros and 21 Grams films comes perhaps their grandest idea yet. The film follows four storylines. The most notable for a lot of people was the one involving Richard (Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys) and Susan (Cate Blanchett, The Aviator), who are spending some time in Morocco when tragedy strikes. Back at home, their children are being tended to by a kind immigrant named Amelia (played by Adriana Barraza, La Primera Noche), who decides to bring the kids across the border to Tijuana to attend her son’s wedding, but when her cousin Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal, The Science of Sleep) reacts poorly to a border officer’s interrogation on their return to America, Amelia is forced to do something she doesn’t want to do. Going back to Morocco, two young brothers who help with farming and goat herding, decide to play with a gun that their father gave them (which turned out to be a gift from a friend). And when the playing has some ramifications, the boys head down a road where there’s no going back. The last one goes to Tokyo, where Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi, Tori) is a teenage deaf-mute girl who witnessed her mother’s suicide as a child, and she looks to try and discover the joy of pleasure despite having to deal with her handicaps.
Now I’m trying to be as spoiler-free as possible here, but the fact is that if you’re looking for an uplifting image or story to gain from the film, there isn’t much of one here. And where other films like Magnolia or similar ensemble cast films that are Altman-esque in terms of characters and storylines, the common-thread that’s found in the characters just seems like a way to tie everyone and everything together for no particular reason other than for the sake of doing it. In fact, if there’s a larger message that Arriaga and Inarritu are trying to convey, it comes across as a bit muddied, even though one could see the “why can’t we be friends?” larger slogan from a mile away.
I don’t want to completely discount the film though, because many of the performances are powerful and blistering. While Blanchett seems to be a little bit wasted in her role, Pitt actually shows more than just the usual forceful yelling in a performance that may be his best in five or ten years. The real stars of the film are Barraza, who means well in trying to balance her home life and her daily work, and her emotions are really genuine. The awards darling appears to be Kikuchi, whose performance is a daring combination of guilt, power, depression and inadequacy, and plays the role of one who discovers herself rather convincingly in a daring job that’s the freshest in recent memory.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of the film looks pretty sharp. The whites are a little on the overblown side, perhaps a creative choice of some sort, but the color palette of the film is pretty muted throughout, though during one of the Japanese club scenes, things appear a little pixelated.
You get a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that, for a dialogue driven film, is still pretty muted. Everything sounds pretty clear throughout, but the dialogue should have been mixed in a little stronger to get the full enjoyment.
Nothing on this disc. For such a critically appreciated film, you’d think more (or something) would be here, oh well.
Babel makes for some pretty good acting moments in a film that’s underwhelming at times, bordering on predictable and rather dull. It’s kind of like Traffic, except you recognize virtually no one, and those that you do see aren’t too revealing. It’s certainly worth checking out for the performances of the foreign actresses, as their performances are easily the best thing in the film, and ones I would have enjoyed to see more in the film’s two and a half hour runtime. Definitely worth renting, but hold off buying unless some actual extras appear in a double-dip.