Review: Babel (2006)

babel-movie-16

I have been known to babel, although that’s not what this movie is about, but I do babel, so, uh, yeah!

Written By: Guillermo Arriaga
Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Babel is a confounding film, because it could have been great but it ends up mediocre. The problem with Babel lies in the fact that there is no depth to the story, or stories, being told. Outside of the character Chieko, not a single character in Babel has any depth to them or in the end matters except for as an artistic exercise. Babel is a film full of ideas, but ideas do not a movie make. Ideas and feelings about the world can be integral parts of any film, but they need depth, characterization and a decent plot around them. With the exception of Chieko, and she has no real plot to speak of, Babel doesn’t deliver anything to accompany the ideas it tries to put forth.

The cinematography in Babel is great, as is the score. The music is the one thing that keeps you invested in what is going on, and the cinematography transports you to every country featured. I was also a big fan of the acting of Rinko Kikuchi as Chieko, as well as Gael García Bernal’s attempts to add anything to the cliche role of Santiago. However, Kikuchi does shine in a great turn as a troubled youth who must confront her own demons as well as the intolerance of society around her. You do feel for Chieko and her scenes do provide the few moments where the direction is spot on with the handling of the loss of sound and its subsequent reemergence. However, Chieko is only a minor part of the film, so while that character may shine and Kikuchi’s performance is sublime, it isn’t enough to elevate Babel above its uneven nature.

The biggest problem with Babel comes in its message, the loss of communication. Alejandro González Iñárritu has made a movie bemoaning the loss of communication in the modern age that fails to communicate with its audience. If you really want us to feel the loss of communication then give us realistic scenarios, not a border crossing scene that is straight out of the wildest imagination. Or, give us real people, not an illegal immigrant that has been breaking the law for years, leaves two young children alone in the desert, and a woman that you then expect us to feel for because her own stupidity has been her downfall. Besides the fact that he character is completely immaterial, Amelia is also unrealistic to the extreme. Babel can’t deliver its message or its theme because it tries to do so with shallow characters, unrealistic situations and stereotypes galore.

Babel is a mediocre film, if you do happen to see it then watch the performance of Rinko Kikuchi and really pay attention to the Japan scenes and try to ignore the rest. There isn’t a reason to try and get invested in the other characters or scenarios, because they aren’t worthy of your attention or your time. Babel is yet another fractured storytelling venture that ends up being fractured in theme, acting, message, and the end result is a bloated movie that is easily skipped.

Rating:

**1/2

Cheers,
Bill

8 responses to “Review: Babel (2006)

  1. It was an alright movie…could have been better, but what can you do?

  2. Pretty much my thoughts on the matter. Easily the weakest of Inarritu’s films. Amores Perros and 21 Grams are modern classics, but here the characters are linked in the most absurd of ways. I wouldn’t have minded but the whole point was to say “everyone’s connected,” and they’re really not when you’re a Japanese businessman and you give a gun to a Moroccan farmer whose children shoot an American. It’s just too much. I couldn’t believe Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.

  3. Sorry, but I do not share your opinion.
    First, I think a movie can be a great, even if their “is not depth to the story”.
    But I do not think that Babel lacks depth. I really loved this film for loads of reasons.
    Here, I just want to make one point.
    Why do you think that the characters were empty?
    When you say:
    “If you really want us to feel the loss of communication then give us realistic scenarios, not a border crossing scene that is straight out of the wildest imagination.”
    Could you explain to me why to express an idea, such as a loss of communication, a director should provide you a perfectly “realistic” environment? I think that loads of ideas can be shared and felt through unreal scenarios.
    What do you mean by realistic? What is exactly a “real” border crossing scene?

  4. Bill Thompson

    Unreal scenarios can be used to express plenty, but the problem comes down to the setting. Babel is not in any way an “unrealistic setting” movie, it takes place in the real world and is a real world movie. If Babel were about surrealism then a scene like the one at the border wouldn’t have been as bad, but Babel was not surrealist, it was “real.”

    A real border crossing scene would have involved A) a legal immigrant, B) someone not blatantly idiotic, C) actual tension as opposed to created tension through the use of stereotype and alluded to racism. Why should we feel anything for Amelia, or view that scene as realistic in any way, when she knows she is an illegal immigrant and still crosses the border and tries to get back across. She allows her nephew to drive despite the fact he has been drinking and for as much as her situation may suck, has taken kids that are not her own across country lines without the consent of their parents. There is no sympathy or lack of communication in that scenario, there is only blatant stupidity and a stupid character. There is also the issue of the lone border cop being portrayed as hostile just so that he can drive the scene along, the entire scene rings false, comes across as gimmicky and unrealistic and is one misfire among many in Babel.

  5. Well, I can see your point concerning Amelia. But to me, it is precisely because she acts in a confused desperate way (that you might qualify as stupid) that this scene is so powerful. It perfectly expresses the loss of communication. After all the mistakes she made (which can make one feel frustration). She is struck by guilt and fear. She is the one who really needs help, yet she is considered like a criminal. Though she has to be blame for her mistakes, she does not diserve such a treatment.
    But, after thinking about it, I tend to agree with you. Some parts of the movie are pretty awkward and very “cliché”.

  6. Cinema – Write about why I didn’t like it, of course. 🙂

    Jake – I don’t share your enthusiasm for Amores Perros.I liked it, but found that it had plenty of flaws that were predecessors to the flaws found in Babel. As for Ebert, he’s still a critic I like very much, but I disagree with him often.

    Pearl – Well, trust me, I’m not seeking to change your opinion. Your take on the film is perfectly valid, but I’m glad that you heard my opinion out.

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