Movie News and Reviews: Babel

The latest entry in Alejandro Gonzalez I?narritu’s semi-bizarre film repertoire, Babel, is already receiving lots of attention both for its quality storytelling and its purported similarity to last year’s surprise hit, Crash. The Amores Perros director, though, has a lot more on his mind than racial tension. If the comparisons to Crash bring people to the theaters for this rich, dark story of communication and violence in the 21 century, then excellent. I?narritu’s message is much more global and coherent than anything Crash had to say, without bowing to the contrivances that seem to plague movies with intertwining stories. In this case, we have the stories of an American couple vacationing abroad, a Japanese teenager whose life is plagued by violence, a woman trying to illegally cross the border into Mexico with two children who don’t belong to her, and two of the most unlikely criminals. I?narritu shows a new kind of restraint here, not playing with chronology too much as he did in 21 Grams or indulging in gratuitous gore as in Amores Perros, and it serves the stories well, each quietly building to a crescendo that only sounds when all four of the stories reach their climaxes. Where Crash failed to overcome its own syrupy idealism and myriad improbable coincidences, Babel succeeds by building four plots that stand strong enough to be their own little films and not letting those coincidences drive the story. To give up any more of the plot, however, would detract from I?narritu’s remarkable vision. Suffice it to say that Brad Pitt, Oscar-magnet Cate Blanchett, and Spanish-language superstar Gael Garcia Bernal lead a cast of highly competent lesser-known actors through a tale of human interaction, blind circumstance and violence in the modern life we live. Without bowing to overt idealism like Crash or absurd political agendas like Syriana, Babel will leave an impression on you for days after you leave the theater.

Babel is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and opens everywhere on November 10.