Wednesday, January 17, 2007


This is a Crash-type movie consisting of four stories intertwined. A poor Moroccan acquires a rifle and gives it to his sons to defend their flock of goats. An American couple is crossing the desert when she is shot through the window of their tour bus. The couple's two kids are taken by their nanny to Mexico to attend her son's wedding. And a businessman in Japan is unable to communicate with his teen daughter. The inability to communicate plays a key role in each story.

Babel is edgy, and fascinating each and every minute. One reason for its pull is that I learned very quickly to care for all of these people. In many cases, particularly the American couple, we're not given a lot to work with, but are plunged into the emergency with just a little background dialogue. But another reason is that I could predict tragedy along the way, and actually was astonished when it didn't dog each character. When the two kids picked up the gun, you could sense bad things were coming. When the nanny's nephew offered to drive her and the kids back across the border despite his drunkenness, you could smell it. These pieces of the story were natural progressions of the storylines; some predictability was built in, but not totally. The stories were very believable.

In truth, the connection of some of the characters to each other was rather tenuous and not terribly believable. The Japanese father, for instance, was barely connected at all to the violence in Morocco, yet his --and his daughter's -- story was the most compelling of all.

What's interesting to me is that the two actors I knew the most -- Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett -- interested me the least. I thought their performances were very good, but their stories rather bland. There were two other characters about which I felt I had to know the outcome. The young woman who played a deaf teen, actress Rinko Kikuchi, was spellbinding. Her portrayal of aloneness, of reaching out, acting out inappropriately -- well, it's simply amazing. I understand that this 26-year-old auditioned for a year before director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu selected her. And the actress who played the kids' nanny, Adriana Barraza, was also compelling.

And the fact that we never find out the fate of some of the other characters, I found, was very disturbing, a sign that the movie affected me deeply.

There are some movies when you feel manipulated into emotion, told what to feel. Babel didn't need any cheap tricks to bring me there. Babel is going to be lauded at one of 2006's best. Thumb's up.


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