Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Adrianna Barraza, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rinko Kukuchi, Koji Yakusho
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
There’s an underlying theme that flows throughout director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s latest interlocking narrative: stupid people and the bad decisions they make. In fact, the film is packed with so many I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that moments (and not the good kind either) that you’ll seriously contest the validity of the film’s so-called importance. It definitely feels important, but it never actually tells you so. That could just as easily be because it’s an American film peppered with a foreign sensibility, which in doing so makes the story appear less innocuous than a production emblazoned with a “Made in Hollywood” sticker, but it hardly matters. A heavy Oscar buzz has been swirling around the project for quite some time now, and while the film probably doesn’t deserve one of five highly coveted Best Picture slots, it’ll still earn one come awards time.
The film takes place in three completely different parts of the world, with one seemingly harmless event linking all four stories together. After a Moroccan nomad (Abdelkader Bara) sells a rifle to a goat farmer for the purpose of killing jackals, the farmer puts his two sons, Yussef and Ahmed (Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani, respectively), in charge of the gun. When a question of the rifle’s range sparks a debate between the two boys, Yussef aims at an oncoming tour bus and fires away. Little does he know that he’s actually hit an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) on vacation with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt), until the two boys hear about a purported terrorist attack on the news. Scrambling for medical help, the Americans are taken to a small Tunisian village where they wait for assistance.
Back in San Diego, Mexican-born nanny, Amelia (Adrianna Barraza), receives a phone call from Richard explaining the situation. Upset that she can’t find a temporary babysitter for the children, Amelia decides to take them – along with her crazy nephew, Santiago (Gale Garcia Bernal) – across the border to attend her son’s wedding, but runs into trouble on the way back over. And in the most interesting thread of the film (which also happens to be the farthest removed from all of the chaos), a deaf-mute Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) wrestles with the adversity of fitting into an unforgiving society, while her father (Koji Yakusho) continues to deal with the recent suicide of his wife.
“Babel” will undoubtedly draw comparisons to “Crash,” what with its connect-the-dots storytelling and in-your-face social commentary, but the film is actually a lot more like last year’s politically-charged globetrotter, “Syriana.” Inarrittu’s narrative isn’t quite as preachy, but either way, it’s hard not to criticize the director for attempting to cash in on the award craze of both features, and star Brad Pitt seems to be following suit. How else can you explain his sudden desire to don a salt-and-pepper beard only one year after pal George Clooney won an Oscar for the same look? I’m not blasting the guy for trying, but method acting isn’t exactly Pitt’s strong suit. If he wins, it’ll be for the much delayed “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” which was originally scheduled to be released earlier this year.
The rest of the cast deliver acceptable performances, but both Blanchett and Garcia Bernal are horribly underused. The former is subjected to just lying around, writhing in pain, while the young up-and-comer plays one of the most stereotypical Mexicans in the history of film; which is saying quite a lot considering both the director and writer’s Latino heritage. The only performance worth praising is Kikuchi’s, who manages to display both a beautiful innocence and a constrained, adolescent rage in one simple look. And though the film itself is beautifully shot, it doesn’t say anything different from the onslaught of like-minded pictures that have emerged out of the past five years. One could even call this new genre social babble, but that would be just too easy.
Collector's Edition DVD Review:
My predictions about a special edition DVD being released later in the year may have been dead on, but I couldn’t have been any more wrong about the actual content that appears. Spanning four countries and as many languages, you’d imagine there would be a wealth of material available for discussion, but the only extra on the two-disc set is a 87-minute documentary (“Common Ground: Under Construction”) on the making of the film. Quite a disappointment if you ask me, especially considering that Paramount went through all the trouble of adding a second disc. What, no audio commentary by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu? How about a featurette on Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla? Nope, making this one of the shallowest double-dips in the history of the industry.