The Forlorn Fourmat

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu is used to constructing films from three different points of view (“Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”). In “Babel,” he drastically reformats as he increases from three to four. So okay, the extra POV doesn’t expand his directorial skills, but at least, he expands the film globally.

In Morocco, we meet two young brothers (Said Tarchani and Boubker Ait El Caid) who are given a rifle to kill or scare away predators. They practice their shooting and test the rifle’s functionality. Unfortunately, they unwittingly aim for a tourist bus.

On the whole, “Babel” is not a strongly cohesive film. It’s like heavy fragments of tales lightly assembled. Or maybe it was forcefully put together that way for a laidback artistic flair. While the film’s structure is not so solid (perhaps like the Tower of Babel), its emotional concrete is. It’s heavy stuff. It wants to be pretentiously deep and buried.

Back in Morocco, the second story targets a couple of American tourists. Tragedy strikes when the wife (Cate Blanchett) is hit by a stray bullet while riding a tourist bus. She starts to bleed to death and her husband (Brad Pitt) hustles to keep her alive in a region where resources are few.

“Babel” is more brilliant in concept (language and prejudice as barriers) than in execution. But it’s still a good movie. Even if the film jumps from one story to another (to another…), I thought the editing was effective between transitions. The film’s plotting and pace is fairly well-done too. Despite some few scenes that drag, the film is rather bearable at 142 minutes. Add the cinematography of distinct locations and the versatile score to the mix and you have a film looking and sounding like an ideal Best Picture nominee.

While their parents are in Morocco, Debbie and Mike (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) cross the south of the border. Their nanny-in-charge Amelia (Adriana Barraza) couldn’t find another person to look after them. Since Amelia wants to go to her son’s wedding in Mexico, the children has to tag along.

“Babel” becomes problematic in its near consistency of tone. It’s bleak and cold. I have no problem with something depressing, but I want a range of emotions when I’m watching a movie. A drama doesn’t have to be sad all the time. That’s boring. I’m grateful that the film managed to showcase few lively scenes: a wedding in Mexico and club life in Japan. But there should have been more.

Finally, in Asia, we meet Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf Japanese girl. She’s been exhibiting a streak of teen angst and rebel attitude lately. It might explain her bravado to lose the panties. Is she losing her mind next?

In the end, the film ends all stories with a bitter taste in your mouth. I liked the characters. I invested some time caring about them. And yet the movie keeps them emotionally remote and vague. The characters are left forlorn and so was I.

Grade: B

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, Rinko Kikuchi, and Kôji Yakusho
Screenplay by
Guillermo Arriaga
Directed by
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use