This Friday Night at the Movies, I sat myself down for some international intrigue and vaguely interconnected stories. Namely: Babel, the new film from the makers of 21 Grams and Amores Perros. I got all I expected and more, yet still walked out of the theatre vaguely unsatisfied.
Plotwise, the film revolves around two young Morrocan goatherds who accidentally shoot an American tourist while practicing their jackal-sniping skills. We see events unfold through their eyes, and through the eyes of the wounded American (Cate Blanchet) and her husband (Brad Pitt). Meanwhile, their children are entrusted to the care of their Mexican housekeeper who sneaks the “ninos” south of the border so she can attend her son’s wedding. Rounding things out is the story of a teenage girl in Tokyo who is deaf-mute and sexually frustrated. Her father finds out that a rifle he gave away on a hunting trip years before has been used in an international incident…
While the interweaving stories that later come together is a device reminiscent of the earlier films, the narrative in 21 Grams was much tighter despite its non-linear nature. I liked Babel, but it wasn’t a great film. It certainly wasn’t fun to watch. While that is not necessarily a prerequisite for whether I like a film or not, it does go a long way towards repeat viewings. Chances are I will never see this film again. I’m glad I saw it, but will never repeat the experience. I can’t say the same thing about 21 Grams although there are similarities, stylistic and otherwise Babel just never quite comes together for me.
My problem isn’t the acting, which is top notch across the board. Pitt and Blanchet both emote the hell out of their scenes, especially with the “iceberg” style dialogue (very little on surface, 90% of their story subtextual). The actress who played the deaf-mute would-be vixen was twitchy and expressive in all the right ways. The film looked amazing and had that same overcast, watshed out quality as its predecessors.
My biggest problem seems to be the plot. The connections between some of the characters are tenuous at best. If there were more thematic similiraties in their stories I would have appreciated it. (Perhaps there was, and most of it was just over my head). As it was, the Tokyo storyline seemed especially tacked on. It was interesting enough but seemed to distract from the other more intimately related subplots. Digression is fine, but when the movie moves along slowly and clocks in at a hefty 2 hours, 30 minutes I can’t help but wonder if that storyline could have been dropped, shortened, or altered.
The movie had some recurring themes about violence and communication and the way one can lead to the other and vice versa. Fair enough. But it seemed like it was trying to make some kind of point about sexuality as well. Couldn’t tell you what it was, though. All I know is the movie has a Morrocan goatherd masturbating to thoughts of his sister, a couple making out while one helps the other use a bedpan, and ends with a father hugging his naked daughter on a balcony. WTF?
Uncomfortable sexual deviance aside, Babel is a gripping, if at times flawed film. If you enjoy the other films in the “trilogy” you would probably enjoy this one. Then again, if that describes you then you likely already have.