"Babel" will be nominated, at least, for a Best Picture Oscar; maybe for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing.
There, I said it. So, if any part of my prediction is wrong, you can come here to this review at this web site for the proof that I didn't get it right. But since I've been going to movies for over six decades, I have some confidence watching, then evaluating motion pictures. A good film is probably the only thing I like better than good music, and that's saying a lot.
I almost missed the scheduled screening for "Babel" because I hadn't read anything about it, nor was keen on seeing what I thought would be a "Bible" epic with Brad Pitt stalking about in a toga on some arid set. Shows you how little I knew going in. I like for good movies to sneak up on my blind side and, whoa, did this one ever.
All though there is much anxiety and suffering in this complex film, none of it is caused through premeditation. It's all by random chance and failure to understand among an American couple touring in Morocco (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), two Moroccan boys misusing their father's rifle, two young Caucasian children from San Diego who've been innocently taken across the border near Tijuana by their Mexican nanny and, finally, a deaf and rebellious teenaged Asian girl (Rinko Kikuchi) whose professional father is wanted for questioning by the Tokyo police about the rifle in Morocco.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga bring all of this together, from beginning to end, without a sense of sequence, exposition or a moment that doesn't rivet or compel the moviegoer. Did I mention the dialogue is in four languages? There's never a doubt, though, about what's being said or implied in the various ways the characters communicate.
"Babel" is the third motion picture for this talented Mexican-born duo. From 2000, Iñárritu and Arriaga gave us "Amores perros" ("Love's A Bitch"); and from 2003, the overwhelming downer, "21 Grams" with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. Another Mexican talent, seen in earlier Iñárritu/Arriaga films, is in the "Babel" cast: Gael García Bernal. He's remembered best as Julio in Alfonso Cuarón's "Y tu mamá también" from 2001. Here, he plays a young, irresponsible Mexican man at odds with U.S. Border Patrol officers.
Despite God's intent in Genesis to confuse and disperse the uniting peoples of the earth for trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way up to heaven from what is now Iraq, "Babel," the movie, clearly and convincingly conveys its meaning and message. Humanity, despite ignorance, misunderstanding and sloth, can transcend language, culture and geography with acts of grace and love.
The cast contains famous stars as well as ordinary people who've never before been in front of a motion picture camera. They're all extraordinary. Pitt and Blanchett blend in well, and for that, are as good as I've seen them, especially Pitt---Blanchett having a more substantive filmography
"Babel" is structured much like last year's Oscar-winning Best Picture,"Crash," and also like "Crash" (reviewed here by Chew) darkly professes the notion that human life can be better if enough of us would really try to make it so. There are likely to be some who will say, due to these similarities, "Babel" is mediocre. Or critics of the film will go to great lengths to complain about minute inconsistencies. Some of what director Iñárritu and screenwriter Arriaga are saying suggests part of that which they find problematic in the world includes, to some degree, those who are annoyed by the cinematic statement made in "Babel."
I've found good art to be very light and funny as well as very heavy and sad. The art part is what's difficult to create and define; but just because I may disagree with a particular philosophy employed by the artist in his or her creation doesn't cause me to disregard the art part, if, in fact, there is some contained in the piece. It can be happy or sad or tender or absurd or fascist or totalitarian and still be capable of being a work of art. When some films being released in cineplexes today are compared to "Babel," one must agree that, yes, "Babel" is a good movie, but in this case, it's also good art. Period.
There is one scene in "Babel" (about two-thirds of the way in) which may "save" it for those who are unsympathetic with its principal intent. Some of the most overpowering moments throughout the two hour and twenty-two minute running time occur when the recalcitrant and socially rejected deaf teenager---with some of her school chums---attends a rave in Tokyo. Music, sound, lights, cinematography and editing converge, slowly drawing-in the audience for several gripping minutes. It is easily a video unto itself, but fits so well within the whole of this memorable and affecting motion picture.
"Babel" official movie site.
Showtimes at Yahoo Movies-Tulsa.
Now playing at the AMC Southroads 20.
Gary Chew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.