Home Arts-Entertainment Movies 'Babel' Viewed as 'Towering Achievement' by Some Critics

'Babel' Viewed as 'Towering Achievement' by Some Critics


Jan. 30, 2007 –- "Babel" is one of those movies with no apparent middle road for film critics, who are either rhapsodic in their praise or give it very short shrift. The Cannes Film Festival liked it — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu walked off with best director prize last year.
It may be a matter of how many stories you can hold in your head and connect the dots to come across a fundamental truth about human beings. Or not.
There is the phenomenon called the butterfly effect, a meteorological idea that proposes that a flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could, ultimately, trigger, or not, a tornado in Texas, or elsewhere.
The butterfly in this case is a high-powered rifle that a Japanese widower Yasujiro (Yakusho) gives to his Moroccan hunting guide, who then sells it to a family where it gets into the hands of two young goatherds.
The boys, playing with the rifle, accidentally hit a tour bus in the desert injuring Susan (Cate Blanchett) and enraging her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt), a couple with troubles enough of their own before the incident. Richard bellows, frustrated at getting medical help in the middle of the Berber desert.
They have two children at home in California who are being tended by their illegal immigrant Mexican nanny, Amelia, (Adriana Barraza) who needs to drive across the Mexican border for her beloved son's wedding. She has no babysitter for the kids, so she gets her nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) to drive all of them. She figures it's just for a day, so it'll be OK. Wrong.
Now, back to Tokyo, where Yasujiro, whose rifle set all these events into play, is being questioned by the police about the rifle and about the escapades of his sexually curious deaf mute teenage daughter, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi).
Well, as you might imagine, all hell breaks loose, as the characters begin to find themselves more and more lost – lost to the desert, lost to the world, lost to themselves.
Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune, says, "The sequences all catch fire; the scenes where Richard tries to save his wounded, bleeding wife, stranded in a small village, are agonizing. So are the awful visions of the Moroccan family under siege by the police and of Amelia and her young charges lost in the desert, the nanny staggering across hot sands in her torn wedding clothes."
The scenes are not chronological, Wilmington says, "but–as with Inarritu's previous movies, 'Amores Perros' and '21 Grams' –in fragments, like pieces of a great puzzle whose meaning becomes clear at the end."
Wilmington calls the film "a powerhouse." He says, "It's a demanding film that sometimes stretches the limits of credibility, but it's done with such consistent technical brilliance … that it sweeps you along in a tide of cinematic energy and high-voltage drama."
While New Yorker critic David Denby says: "Inarritu creates savagely beautiful and heartbreaking images, he gets fearless performances out of his actors, he edits with the sharpest razor inside any computer in Hollywood, and he also abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that border on the ludicrous."
He adds, "As a mood, this globalized empathy is a noble enterprise. As a method of constructing a movie, it's hopeless."
Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, minces no words. "Though it begins well, it soon deflates … " she says. "Now I understand how people who disliked 'Crash" (which I loved) felt – that they were being spoon-fed one schematic contrivance after another."
On the other hand, Dana Stevens in Slate.com says, "Babel makes 'Crash' look like an undergraduate paper on race relations." She says the movie "has great expectations for itself: It wants to be a movie about big ideas and big emotions at the same time. Aided by gorgeous locations and classy trappings (cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, theme music by Gustavo Santaolalla), and, for the most part, it succeeds."
The son of a friend who saw the movie in New York, told his mother, "I left the theater and walked a block or two, and just started crying."
"Babel" is long — two hours and 22 minutes — which, all things considered, it would have to be. One critic said it takes longer to describe the intricacies of the story, than most movies take to completely review.
It is rated R for the usual suspects: violence, nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.
It starts Thursday at Market Square East.
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