(Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, et al / DVD / R / 2007 / Paramount)
Overview: In 'Babel,' a tragic incident involving an American couple in Morocco sparks a chain of events for four families in different countries throughout the world. In the struggle to overcome isolation, fear, and displacement, each character discovers that it is family that ultimately provides solace.
DVD Verdict: "Babel" is the latest narratively and chronologically twisted epic from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. This is getting to be a specialty of his. He weaves different plots and characters together in unlikely ways hoping to surprise and enhance the dramatic affect of his storytelling. It brought him wide acclaim for his breakthrough "Amores Perros" a funny and thrilling ride for man and dog! The device was a bit more unnecessary in "21 Grams"--but that smaller film ended up being my choice for the best acted film of its year. But now he takes his skill and technical prowess to his biggest canvas yet.
"Babel" is set in Morocco, Mexico, Japan and the United States. We follow the interlocking stories of a Moroccan farming family, a couple of American tourists, a disaffected and deaf/mute Japanese schoolgirl, and a Mexican maid and her two American charges. One bullet brings all the stories together. As one of the tourists, Cate Blanchett, is accidentally shot--the repercussions are felt around the world.
This is an ambitious picture, and I do believe the narrative framing and structure enhance the overall experience. From a technical standpoint, there is not much more you could ask for--this is an awesome achievement. From editing, score, screenplay, cinematography and art direction--"Babel" is propelled to the short list of great studio films this year. The acting is uniformly excellent. Brad Pitt as Blanchett's husband and Rinku Kikuchi as the Japanese girl have been singled out repeatedly (and are likely Oscar contenders), but everyone here is in top form. This is heavy drama, and I can understand why that scares some people away--but the payoff is worth it. It is harrowing and unpleasant at times, but riveting and emotional throughout.
"Babel" is clearly a film made with serious intentions--and I'm not entirely sure it's as successful as it hopes to be. The philosophical implications, the biblical allegory, the effort to document the state of the world, the examination of a disaffected society, the randomness of the universal ties that bind, and the commentary at the lack of communication and understanding in the world--it's all here! There are certainly individual moments within "Babel" that will strike a chord, and it's definitely an intelligently made film, I just don't necessarily think that it is as "significant" as some make it out to be. I admire that it tries to deliver a social commentary without being "preachy"--but it moves perilously close at several times (times where 2 seconds of rational thought and explanation could have resolved something--but people were more villainous than understanding). Ultimately, though, I must embrace "Babel" as great adult filmmaking and powerful drama. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of just Subtitles in both English and Spanish.