Published at: Sept. 12, 2006, 8:29 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here with another review singing the praises of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's BABEL. Which is one of the finest films you'll have an opportunity to see this year. Here ya go...
Hi AICN peoples! MeTheHead again with a review of Innaritu's "Babel", which I caught on sunday before "Pan's Labyrinth". A tough movie to write about, just because there's so much to say and- at the same time- so much going on in the movie that should be experienced for the first time as you watch it- not as you read a review written by some jerk on the internet.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a real gift for using music in his films as a storytelling device, or a way to make an accute emotional impression on the audience to help carry them along on a character's inner journey while external events move the story forward (I know: I'm sort of just describing the role of score in movies in general, but I think that there are varying degrees to which directors even care about the music in there movies, and then there's someone like Inarritu, whom I think might be choosing a lot of music very early in production and with great deliberation). I still have a gut emotional reaction whenever I hear "Lucha De Gigantes"; that one recurring song from Amores Perros by Nacha Pop. There's an amazing scene in Babel that uses Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" so deftly, so masterfully to evoke that feeling of being with all your best friends and on your favourite intoxicant in the hottest spot when the most dance-able song you could imagine comes on and everyone seems to feel the same as you, only to suddenly remind us- with brilliant sound editing- that the central character in the scene can't hear a thing. She's completely deaf.
Of course music and sound design aren't Inarritu's only strengths; he clearly knows how to direct actors- and cast them, for that matter. Take Brad Pitt, for instance: An actor who- even in his best roles- tends to come off as though his star power afforded him a little more indulgence than was beneficial to the final product (you know, like if- say- he just arbitrarily decided his character should wear an eye-patch or something, he'd probably get his way). Babel presents us with possibly the most understated performance I remember the actor giving. Also, I feel that Inarritu chose him because of his public persona: No matter what you or I think of Pitt's thespian skills, there is a sense of power about him; he is a commanding presence, on and off screen, and I think this might be behind his casting- at least in part. His character, Richard Jones, is seemingly a fairly powerful man (his children have been raised by a nanny all their lives; he and his wife work out their marital problems by going on vacation: and when said vacation goes terribly wrong, he knows how to make everyone else suffer for it) rendered powerless by crisis, geography and language. On the fix-the-marriage trip in Morocco, as they ride along on a tour bus Richard's wife Susan (Cate Blanchett) is sudenly shot by an unseen sniper in a misguided act of youthful boredom.
The repercussions of this incident are both global and globe-spanning (which makes for a pretty juicy international cast full of greats like Koji Yakusho- in whose dancing shoes Richard Gere once took a shit- and Gael Garcia Bernal): Rash statements are made by the U.S. government about terrorism and such while the lives of people thousands of miles apart are affected on a personal level in ways that are sometimes readily apparent, and at other times only gradually revealed. Cause and effect can be very complicated indeed.
The heart-thumping suspense barely lets up throughout the film, but somehow still leaves plenty of room for slice-of-life moments that warm us to the characters- even when they are not behaving so warmly- and open us up to the emotional rollercoaster ride we are on. It all works, thanks largely to that time-shifting storytelling style of Inarritu's; it sets us up to be blindsided by some pretty jarring revelations and raw moments. We also get a strong taste of how differently crisis affects the poor- who generally never get to bounce back- without taking any sympathy away from the well-off and their harrowing plight. That is a pretty fine balancing act, but of course the trick is that this is a movie made up of three equally important stories- not one story with some other satellite plotlines.
If this review seems a little disorganized or ass-backward, it's because that's the way the film is sitting with me at the moment: fragmented and impressionistic, like I was caught up in some incident or event that left me disorientated, like one of the film's characters. I can't tell you at this point where Babel rates for me in relation to Amores Perros, but I do know for sure that I liked it better than 21 Grams (which I still like well enough, although it didn't leave nearly the impression the other two did). I've only seen those three films by the director.
Also, in the same way I believe- on some level- that Amores Perros really was more a movie about dogs and their people than the other way around, I also believe that Babel is a story about children, both living and dead, and the way they affect the lives of adults as well as being at the mercy of their often selfish elders.
That, and the many and varied ways that guns can not only take lives, but ruin them as well.