Movie Review by Neil Sadler
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, KOji Yakusho
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
In an age of mass communication, why do we still not communicate. After tackling love in AMORES PERROS and death in 21 GRAMS – BABEL, the third film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu concentrates on language and how it causes conflicts and divisions. This is as far away from Jerry Bruckheimer as you can get!
As with his other films, a central theme is explored by interweaving stories – connected in a variety of ways. Each story is essentially tragic – two brothers fight over their father’s love in Morocco. Also in Morocco, an American couple try to make sense of their relationship after the loss of their youngest child. In America, the couple’s children are taken over the Mexican border by their housekeeper and in Japan, a teenage deaf girl tries to deal with her mother’s death, her father’s coldness towards her and her burgeoning sexuality. By building up each storyline to a crescendo and then cutting to the next story, Inarritu is in danger of losing his audience but each storyline has its strengths and it is the rotating storyline that actually adds tension, even to the weakest of the four storylines, the one involving the Mexican nanny, a family wedding and a nephew with an axe to grind.
The risk of casting non-professionals also works well, especially in the Moroccan scenes. It lends a reality and urgency to the film. Especially strong are the two young brothers who initiate the tragedy.
This is a film with themes and a message written large all over it but it is also a very human film and if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t work as well as it does. You care about the story and the fates of all the characters. There is an emotional truth to much of the film, and so even when it is at its darkest, you feel compelled to look. You believe that these things could happen to these people.
But although you can admire the craftsmanship of everyone involved, although you can easily get lost in the beauty of the shots, the power of the writing, believability, truth of the story and performances – this is a hard film to love. There are times when the bleakness of the vision could overwhelm the viewer. This is not a pleasant journey and I did wonder at points why anyone would pay to take this trip. Up until the last ten minutes of the film, it seems like this is a lost world without hope, but thankfully there are glimpses of it as the film closes.
This is an intelligent and memorable piece of cinema – more mature than CRASH or any recent Hollywood ensemble piece, but it suffers slightly from its bleak vision.