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February 13, 2007 > Babel-A Movie Review

Babel-A Movie Review

By Steve Warga

Of the many ways that come to mind to describe the movie "Babel," Best Picture of the Year is so far down the list you would need a deep sea submersible vessel to reach it. Along the way you'd pass quite a few other descriptions we can't print in a family newspaper.

Here is a word we can print: gratuitous; defined by the American Heritage College dictionary as, "3. Unnecessary or unwarranted; unjustified." Now that's a pretty good summary of this mish-mash of violence, foul language, absurd plotting and sexual content that can only be described as child pornography.

If you removed all the gratuitous content, however, there'd be nothing left to film. Babel offers no plot other than a "slice-of-life" snapshot of four families from four different areas of the globe. All are supposedly linked by a rifle used in an accidental shooting committed by a young boy in the interior wastelands of Morocco.

The movie opens with the story of a rifle purchased by a family of goatherds. But even before getting to the crucial plot moment of the shooting, Director Alejandro Gonz‡lez I–‡rritus and Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga indulge their preoccupation with gratuitous underage sexual content. (It involves one of two brothers and their sister, both around the age of 12). The inclusion of this content raises the first of many, "Whys?"

The next big "Why" comes up after we see the lecherous younger brother shooting at a distant tour bus to prove the high-power rifle won't shoot as far as the seller promised. It turns out the seller didn't lie and Cate Blanchett provides the bleeding proof after the bullet smashes into her shoulder. Brad Pitt and Blanchett play a married couple from San Diego first introduced to viewers in a scene where they're trying to order fat-free lunch items at an open-air, fly-infested cafŽ in a painfully primitive village somewhere in the Moroccan interior. (This village is so terribly backwards, they don't even have Diet Coke. Imagine the deprivation!)

As their story unfolds, we learn that something awful happened to one of their children (a SIDS death presumably). Pitt's character reacted to this tragedy by running off with another woman, leaving Blanchett to deal with her own grief and guilt feelings along with the couple's two other young children. He eventually returns to his family, but not entirely back into Blanchett's good graces.

We're supposed to believe that a tour of remote Morocco is the couple's way of attempting a full reconciliation. That's the next big "why;" or maybe, "Huh?" would be a better question. But that's the story and it does provide a lead into the third disturbed-family plot involving the couple's undocumented Mexican nanny, left to care for the still-grieving kids while mom and dad take-off for primitive parts of the planet.

Perhaps this goofy plot twist was planned in order to give Adriana Barraza a chance to strut her acting stuff. Barraza flawlessly portrays a loving, devoted and slightly air-headed nanny whose character manages to make one bad decision after another that ultimately (and improbably) puts her life and the children's lives in grave peril.

Come to think of it, this same sort of reasoning might explain the fourth leg of this Tower of Babel allegory. Aside from some fine acting, a Japanese father and daughter portrayed have no connection except that dad made a gift of the rifle to his Moroccan guide on a hunting expedition several years earlier. This incredulously long reach of connection does permit Rinko Kikuchi, who's up for Best Supporting Actress, to display some impressive screen skills. Unfortunately, she also displays large doses of her underage character's nudity which detracts from her acting prowess. The nudity is offensively gratuitous, adding absolutely nothing to her storyline which is that of a young teen, deaf-mute struggling for acceptance from the "in crowd" of privileged, substance-abusing Tokyo youth while also coming to grips with her mother's recent suicide.

Koji Yakusho, as Kikuchi's father, once again impresses with his remarkable ability to express considerable emotional range within the confines of traditional Japanese reticence. Discriminating film buffs will remember him from the original-and vastly superior-Japanese production of the movie "Shall We Dance," released in 1996. (Rent the DVD, you won't regret it.)

What a shame that all this fine acting is wasted in a pointless, gimmicky production. For that matter, Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto's skills are also wasted to trendy gimmickry, but that may well be his own fault. Prieto is guilty of two irritants here, one major, one minor, but neither of which is unique in present-day cinematography.

The minor flaw is the latter-day Hollywood compulsion to present close-up shots of every single skin pore, bump and blemish of the main stars' faces. We get plenty of huge, magnified views of Blanchett's nose and Pitt's meticulously-groomed-to-scruffy-perfection, three-day beard. (It never changes throughout roughly five days of action. How strange!).

From a more respectful distance, Blanchett's skin is nearly a perfection of classic English, pale-complexion beauty. You'll find out just how imperfect it is, however, if you waste any money seeing this film. Like appreciating a sparkling waterfall from afar, we don't really need to climb into Blanchett's nose pores to appreciate her beauty!

The biggest gripe with Prieto's work is the way he spoils some otherwise impressive sets and scenery by constantly bouncing his cameras to simulate action, while cutting each scene to less time than a blink of the eye. It's MTV exploding on the big screen. Except for the aforementioned monster close-ups, we never get a chance to absorb any details. We can appreciate the excitement and tension of action shots without cameras mounted on bobble-head doll platforms. In fact, we could appreciate it all the more if the dang cameras would just sit still! (Be prepared though for several stable, lingering shots of Kikuchi's privates which she wastes no time flashing soon after appearing in the film for the first time.)

Earth to Hollywood, not even the finest, most expensive camera in the universe can come close to the human eye's perceptions and focusing abilities. For example, when Mr. Big Star swings his head from his injured wife to shout for help, just switch to another camera. Don't sweep the same camera in a great rush across the bus interior in an attempt to mimic the actor's eyes. It isn't art, it isn't clever, it only makes us dizzy!

Well, in case I haven't been clear, I really don't like this movie at all! You know what that means? Yep, it'll win Best Picture for I–‡rritus and company for the second year in a row. Anybody remember last year's Best Picture?

Rated R

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