More noise than signal


This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

In most respects, the world of space year 2007 isn’t so vastly different from the world of space year 2004. The particular similarity we concern ourselves with today is the appearance of hot ticket Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel, which critics up and down the land are falling over themselves to declare a masterwork of heartbreaking beauty. If this rings up your familiarometer in any fashion more than likely you’re thinking of 21 Grams, the lastAlejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film which had critics up and down the land falling over themselves to declare a masterpiece of heartbreaking beauty. The warning flags should be raising, as those who have witnessed the spectacle will remember, if indeed they remember it at all, 21 Grams as an irritating mess of fractured narrative and flash editing masquerading as something more clever than it in fact was. Care to guess what we’re going to say about this outing?

If you picked answer b) Really negative, congratulations! You win our admiration. Once you unravel all of the irritating fractured narrative and flash editing you are left with three strands, a bloke (Brad Pitt) trying to get his wife (Cate Blanchett) to hospital after she’s arbitrarily sniped by a prepubescent goat herder in one of them loser countries, the bloke’s maid-cum-nanny being unable to find a babysitter for his kids so takes them across the border with her to her son’s wedding in Mexico and a Japanese dude who once owned the shooter of article one’s deaf-mute daughter’s attempts to get laid. Hmm.

For a film sold primarily on the concept of how seemingly unrelated incidents can have a massive, chaos-theory-butterfly-wing-flapping sort of effect on distant events, the first thing to note is that far from being delicately wound strands of a human tapestry, Babel‘s trifecta of plots are so utterly disparate as to resemble strands of a tapestry subjected to a matter-antimatter explosion, thrown to the furthest corners of the galaxy. At best there’s a passing, near-effectless coincidence connecting Babel‘s lot, and the only real lesson (and one that’s perhaps the only truly praiseworthy thing in the film) is that people doing stupid things will be swiftly punished for their stupidity with a likeable absence of mercy.

Let’s get all of this unsavoury praise out of the way first. Brad Pitt gives an utterly effective performance, restrained and affecting when it could just as easily have been played laughably hysterically. Blanchett’s character is so immediately irritating and hateful that one instantly wishes pain and death upon her, and then she gets shot. Yay, bullets!

If there’s anything else in this film that merits praise, I’ll be damned if I can see it. Once the annoyance of the overbearing techniques are stripped from the movie you’re left with three fairly pedestrian stories that don’t really say much of note, or do anything of note, or indeed should be of note. As a direct consequence of this, Babel‘s pretty dull. As a direct consequence of this, the film takes a subjective time of forty three hours to reach the end credits. Even in real time, there’s a good twenty minutes that ought to have been excised during editing, had people not been too busy masturbatorily combining shifted timelines.

Sure, there’s enough in the way of decent acting (Pitt’s is the only exceptional performance, but it’s not the case that anyone else is bad, exactly) and solid production values to ensure that the worst most people could say about Babel is that it’s a polished slice of mediocrity. Frankly, of late I’ve started to hate mediocrity far more vehemently than conventionally terrible films, so for the egregious crime of boring me to tears Babel is sentenced accordingly. May Oscar have mercy on it’s soul, although I’m not altogether convinced Babel has one.