Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Rinko Kikuchi, Kôji Yakusho
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
I put off seeing this movie as long as I could, but since I have this obsession with seeing Oscar-nominated movies, I figured it time to watch the only Best Picture nominee I had not yet seen. When I first heard about Babel it was in the late summer when prognosticators were starting to talk about what movies had awards buzz, which is a ridiculous exercise that has nothing to do with the quality of the movies (given that prognosticators haven’t yet seen a lot of the movies they talk about), just which movies sound like the kind that will grab the attention of voters.
Then I saw a preview for the movie, and thought it looked like Crash II, but with language instead of race (or, language AND race, true to the practice of giving the audience more for the sequel). Then, the reviews came up, which were fairly tepid for a movie of such lofty ambition. Of course, the Academy had to go ahead and nominate it anyway, cause if they didn’t, I would’ve been able to trust my instincts and skip it. Instead, I waited for it to come out on DVD and tried to keep as open a mind as possible when I sat down to watch it. Hey, it couldn’t be as bad as Crash, right?
Turns out it wasn’t as bad as Crash, it was worse. While Crash may have been obvious, overwrought, and contrived, at least it wasn’t as interminably boring as Babel. Of all the suffering portrayed in the movie by its various characters, none could match the suffering I felt trying to make my way through the 142 minutes of this movie. It’s not like I have a short attention span, it’s just that everything in this movie is drawn out, lifeless, and pointless. The worst of it is the ridiculous plotline involving the movie’s two star players, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as an American married couple touring the back roads of Morocco as a means to work out their relationship difficulties.
These sad-sack bastards suck the life right out of you about 20 minutes into the movie, and the movie never lets you recover. The cast of hundreds doesn’t present a single character that I could muster the strength to give a damn about, filling the movie with random stories jammed together seemingly to maximise the amount of “important” content the movie could come up with. I imagine screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga simply came up with a bunch of characters that spoke different languages, then said to himself “what’s the absolute worst decision my character could make here?” and the rest wrote itself. It’d be laughable the amount of contrivance on display if it wasn’t all so oppressively dull.
The worst case of this is again with Pitt and Blanchett’s characters. Who the hell tours the back roads of Morocco on a marriage-saving vacation? Especially when one of you (Blanchett) is an uptight WASP? Worse, the lure of a country they seemingly hate was so powerful that they absolutely HAD to go when their housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) had her son’s wedding to attend in Mexico, but it’s cool cause they had someone flying in to look after their kids (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) the day of the wedding, cause nothing could go wrong there. It’s a conceit so ridiculous that the characters practically trip on the contrivance that puts them into their various plights, only after additional characters make even dumber decisions to get them there.
To make matters worse, Alejandro González Iñárritu structures this loose collection (eventually, the various story threads come together in Crash-style threads that loosely link the players around the world) by editing it the frustrating manner of jumping back and forth in the timeline events. This way, he’s able to eliminate any possible suspense certain events might carry, and cause you to wonder how something can become an international news story before anyone from the outside world has had a chance to learn about it. Well, unless you’re satisfied with the conclusion I came up while watching: cause this is a dumb movie.
Is this what we’re going to be subjected to for the next few years? Pseudo-important movies about issues jammed together with the delicacy of a sledgehammer that confuse people enough to make them think that they’re watching something special? We can get some hacks together to throw people together in ridiculous situations, make them do desperate, showy things, and watch the awards pile up! To be fair, while the movie is utterly horrible, Iñárritu does prove a solid technician in filming the scenes, giving them the epic treatment that probably further confused people into thinking the movie was better than it is, so there’s that. He’s not a hack per se, he just made a really hacky movie.