Thursday, January 24, 2008

Film Review: Babel

Babel - directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

I think I expected too much from this movie. I'd been wanting to see it for ages, since I remembered all the Oscar buzz about it and I loved 21 Grams, but...I don't know. I think I was hoping for something that would affect me the way 21 Grams did -- I was WRECKED after that movie -- but after the credits rolled I just sort of sat there and went, "Huh," and that was about it.

It was good, don't get me wrong. It was really, really good. The acting was wonderful, and a lot of the cinematography was breathtaking, just absolutely beautiful, but the emotional connection that I was looking for was absent, and I'm not sure why. I felt for all of the characters, and a few of the sequences were quite hard-hitting, but ultimately I think the structure that worked so well in 21 Grams actually failed this particular film, especially with the sequences in Japan. To make that sort of "connected through time and geography" setup work, you need to have strong, clear ties between the separate stories. And while the connection between the Japanese story and the one in Morocco was eventually explained (and fairly interesting, actually), I think we found out about it too late, which took away from the emotional impact of it.

What I usually like about movies like this is the sense of fate involved. One seemingly random choice made by one person sets off a whole chain of events that affects characters in ways they never would've imagined. There's a sense of inevitability involved -- even though no one could've predicted that one event, the way everything eventually turns out feels as though it could've gone no other way. The characters are caught up in a story that's completely out of their control, and whether it's a matter of fate or cruel cosmic chance, watching the characters struggle with their place in the inevitable river of time and circumstance is the stuff tragedy is made of.

There are a few moments like that in Babel. When Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are on the bus, and the viewer knows what's's excruciating. The scene with Amelia and the children out in the California desert had a similar feel. But there were also a lot of moments where the characters just seemed sort of lost, not in a grand, cosmic way, but more in a "the writer didn't exactly know what to do with this plotline" kind of way, and I think that's ultimately where I was disappointed. I wanted a sense of meaning -- even if that meaning was nothing more than "shit happens and we deal" -- but that meaning was nowhere to be found. It was a good movie, perhaps even a great one, but in the end I think it could've been a lot more amazing than what it was.

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