Screenwriter: Guillermo Arriaga
Running Time: 142 mins
Guillermo Arriaga must be a genuinely disturbed fellow. The scriptwriter of Alejandro González Iňárritu’s ‘trilogy’, Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2006) and now Babel, has consistently been fixated with humanity in the face of tragedy and suffering, connecting a number of intertwined stories through the catastrophes he creates. Babel has taken his obsession to new, soul-crushing, bleak depths.
The compulsory A-list stars, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, are holidaying in Morocco when Susan (Blanchett) is fatefully hit in the neck by the wayward gunshots of Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchani), two young boys protecting their father’s goat herd. Simultaneously, their children are taken illegally into Mexico for a wedding by their well-meaning, if astoundingly stupid nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza). In one of the most tenuous links in movie history, the daughter of the former owner of Yussef and Ahmed’s rifle, a deaf Japanese teenage girl (Rinko Kikuchi), struggles to cope with the suicide of her mother and the loneliness of her own existence.
As the four divergent stories unfold, the tragedy and sorrow becomes palpable, verging on the impenetrable. The two young Moroccans try in vain to evade police capture for the shootings, Blanchett faces the possibility of bleeding to death in a remote mountain town, the nanny and her Aryan poster child charges become hopelessly lost in the desert around the border and the Japanese girl takes her clothes off a lot.
Thematically Babel is powerful, examining cross-cultural differences through its trans-nationally entwined tales, touching on American foreign policy and media coverage, Moroccan police brutality, the sense of community in Mexico and the difficulties of growing deaf. The acting, although dominated by the big names, Blanchett, Pitt and rising star Gael Garcia Bernal, includes exceptional and touching performances from the two young North African’s El Caid and Tarchani who are the true stars in this picture. Pitt, looking haggard and about as old as he actually is, gives a notable performance as Richard, the panic stricken husband of Blanchett, while she collects what must have been the easiest pay-cheque of her career for lying down throughout the duration of the film.
Iňárritu and his collaborator Director of Photography, Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Alexander) provide obligatory, exquisite cinematography which will have some critics raving about ‘masterpieces’, however it does not excuse the fact that Babel is overblown, portentous and in places interminably depressing, outrageously implausible and jaw-droppingly cruel. Iňárritu is a sadistic puppet master, inflicting endless pain and anguish upon his characters, and no amount of artful composition can compensate for such ceaseless heartbreak.
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