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"Babel"

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Written by Guillermo Arriaga.
Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Brad Pitt, Boubker Ait El Caid and Adriana Barraza.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  11/5/06

Folks-- 

"Babel" has so much going on during its nearly 150-minute running time that it would be tough to try and summarize it all here.  But, like director Alejandro González Iñárritu's earlier film "Amores Perros", "Babel" is a time-bending drama revolving around multiple parties connected by a single violent incident, this time the shooting of an American tourist in Morocco while she is riding on a tour bus.

The story revolves mainly around the two kids involved in the shooting (Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani), a Japanese man (Kôji Yakusho) who gave the rifle used in the shooting to the kids' father's neighbor, the Japanese guy's deaf-mute daughter (Rinko Kikuchi), the American woman who was shot (Cate Blanchett) and her husband (Brad Pitt), and the Americans' immigrant nanny (Adriana Barraza), who is watching the Americans' two children (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) in San Diego at the time of the shooting.

There are multiple plots and subplots here to get into, but they are better left for just going to the movie theater and seeing for yourself.  Iñárritu, who also did "21 Grams" a couple years back, does have a great touch with drama; some of the sequences in "Babel" will probably be called "brilliant" or "awe-inspiring" by people that get paid to talk about movies, and they would be right; even in scenes where you can see the cards he is trying to play (like, any time the Border Patrol is involved, as a small example), he makes you see both sides of an argument in a way that you might not have considered before.  With a cast this big, it's amazing that Iñárritu got this many big stars to sign on; many of the bigger names have the smallest parts, so the lean on unknowns to carry the film is of paramount importance.

Which gets me to what I think will be the film's biggest hurdle for some people if they read any reviews--the marketing campaign for "Babel" features not only Pitt, but Blanchett, Yakusho (big in Japan; he was in a small part of "Memoirs of a Geisha" last year) and Gael Garcia Bernal, everyone's favorite.  The four of them, collectively, are in something like twenty minutes of the film.  Seriously.  If you love Brad Pitt and you're going to "Babel" to see Brad Pitt work his magic, wait for the next "Ocean's XXXX" film instead.  The film's real star--and the one who gets the slight edge of screen time--is Kikuchi, who is awesome as the deaf-mute teenager.  When you see "Babel" and you think of it from back-to-front, you realize that the hardest thing for it to accomplish from a production standpoint is to introduce not only a character who can't speak, but one who lives in freakin' Tokyo and therefore requires extra time to sign all of her lines but also to add what must have been a few million bucks in additional costs.  Why not make that character European?  In the scheme of things upfront, it wouldn't have mattered where the kid was from, but Iñárritu seems to have drawn up one of the most complicated films from a logistics standpoint ever...and, in the case of the Japanese and Moroccan segments, couldn't have done this any better from an acting perspective.  Both of the kids involved in the shooting are excellent, and Kikuchi hits it out of the park.

When we do get our highly-touted stars, they are all pretty good; Blanchett isn't in the film for more than a few shots (she spends most of her time bleeding, obviously), and Bernal is in the film long enough to kill a rooster and occasionally hang out during a wedding sequence in Mexico.  The film leans heavily on Kikuchi, the two boys and Barraza (as the nanny), and this was just fine...the things that they go through are powerful, affecting stuff.  My favorite scene?  Probably the sequence in the Tokyo nightclub where the deaf girl tries to win the affections of a guy she meets earlier in the day...wow, when I go to nightclubs, I'll never see (or hear) them the same way again.

The flick's length was a minor issue for me; and, naturally, as with all films that have this many characters, sometimes the ones you love don't get enough screen time, and "Babel" is no exception to that rule.  Given Iñárritu's penchant for throwing in big tirades with characters in his films, I was surprised with how he handled the resolution of the shooting and the lack of a big flameout with American government officials; maybe it was left on the cutting room floor.  But, "Babel" is otherwise strong work, something that you should check it as we move through the holidays.

Rating:  $9.50 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09