Babel Review
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Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are traveling through Morocco, on a trip that’s supposed to get them away from the grief they’ve been suffering and the challenges their marriage has faced after losing a child. But while they’re traveling on a tour bus, Susan is shot. They’re hours away from the nearest hospital, and the only thing they can do is drive on to their tour guide’s village, get assistance from the village doctor, and hope that they’ll be able to get an ambulance before it’s too late.

Though the shooting is assumed to be a terrorist act, the real culprit is a young boy who’s just trying to show off with his father’s new rifle while he and his brother are watching their father’s sheep. But once the incident escalates into an act of terrorism against an American tourist, the boys are faced with the important decision of whether or not they’ll tell the truth.

The terrorist hunt eventually leads to Japan, where police search for the rifle’s original owner for questioning. There, viewers meet Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute teenage girl who’s trying to find herself in the wake of her mother’s suicide.

And, back in the U.S., Richard and Susan’s children are under the care of their nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza). But when Richard can’t find someone to take care of the kids on the day of Amelia’s son’s wedding, she decides to pack the kids up and take them with her to Mexico.

Artistically and cinematically speaking, Babel is, in many ways, a spectacular film. It was definitely a major undertaking, since its four interconnected plotlines were performed in seven languages—and the film’s two big-name stars had to spend days on end filming emotionally draining scenes in the 120-degree Moroccan heat, in a village that has never heard of air-conditioning. The resulting performances are, simply put, brilliant. Pitt is clearly eyeing an Oscar nod, since he allowed a makeup artist to make him look old and haggard and wrinkly—but he, for one, deserves it (and not just because of the unsightly bags under his eyes). In fact, Babel is overflowing with powerful, emotional performances.

The problem, however, is that the story just doesn’t reach its viewers. Entertainment Weekly tells me that Babel is about the lack of communication in the post-9/11 world. I can see how the story could have been built on that concept—but the message just doesn’t come through. Instead, it feels heavy and depressing, it’s hard to see the point. It’s uncomfortable—and not in a powerful, inspiring kind of way, like last year’s Oscar winner, Crash.

Babel is a stunning film, but it fails to connect with its audience. Take it from the guy sitting next to me, whose dramatic sighs made his displeasure with the film quite apparent—as did his loud statement to his wife, about a half hour from the end: “Let’s go home. This is boring!”

While I can definitely appreciate Babel’s artistic merits, I think my especially vocal neighbor would agree that it’s not the most compelling film I’ve seen this year.

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