“Babel” (2006)

Having already reviewed 21 Grams and Amores Perros, it is only fair that I get to the final installment of the Iñárritu/Arriaga trilogy. As a standalone movie, Babel is different and unique. It aims to provide a snapshot of life from the very chaotic world in which we live. Some critics call it Crash on a global scale; this applies very well. When one considers it in relation to the previous two movies, it becomes something different entirely. It contains the raw, relentless emotion and uncanny portrayal of the foreign like Amores Perros. It also contains the complex relationships and powerful metaphors of 21 Grams. Somewhere along the way, however, the movie falls short of combining the best of those two movies, and falls short of a lot of things in general.

In following suit with the rest of the movies in the trilogy, this movie connects multiple stories. It actually involves four instead of the usual three, but in some ways you can say it is three because it only takes place in three countries. The story is told, for the most part, in chronological order, as opposed to 21 Grams. I didn’t feel the acting was particularly good from anyone involved, including the big names like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who were, at best, melodramatic. The performances were forgettable. The characters they played, however, were rather interesting. Whether it was the dysfunctional relationship of Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) or the seemingly insane Amelia (Adriana Barraza) who makes ridiculously dumb decisions, there are a lot of complicated lives in this movie. It becomes clear that the director was trying to use these characters’ messed-up lives to prove a point. Did it work? Probably. But it felt forced.

The stories, the characters, the themes… they all felt like they were being spoon-fed. At times it seemed raw and natural like Amores Perros, but it was almost too natural. This led to a certain superficiality that ruined the overall point of the movie. What Crash did remarkably well, this movie fails to do. More than anything, this movie reeks of critical appeal. If there’s something that I hate more than stupid alien plot twists (a’la The Forgotten), it is when a movie purposely does things to try to win awards (e.g. A Beautiful Mind). Babel is designed to go after the Oscar. It is what some like to call Oscar bait; I hated that about the movie. All of this bad aside, the movie is decent when you simply watch it. It is very entertaining, in fact, if you just watch it with no context. Babel also succeeds in introducing an interesting set of conflicts that a proactive movie-watcher would use to question modern society, but this will likely be missed by the casual viewer. It fails, however, to stand beside Amores Perros and the excellent 21 Grams. It even fails to capture the essence of Crash on a global scale. It is for that reason that I feel this movie was a particular weak end to the trilogy and why I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a true Iñárritu/Arriaga experience.

RATING: 6 / 10