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Can’t we all just get along?
Brad Pitt on the Set of "Babel".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $41,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

March 20th, 2006: Intertwining stories, spanning three different continents, four diverse languages, and a 36-hour time period, will merge and unite complete strangers in inconceivable ways after a gunshot sets off a chain of dramatic events. A father (Kôji Yakusho), concerned about his deaf daughter, has problems communicating with the rebellious girl. An American married couple vacationing in Morroco (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) is suddenly forced to extend their stay due to the woman’s health problems. When the nanny (Adriana Barraza) back in the United States is informed about the couple’s troubles abroad, she becomes concerned about missing a family wedding in Mexico. Along with her nephew (Gael García Bernal), she crosses the border with the couple’s kids (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) in tow, only to be stopped by authorities for suspected kidnapping.

What to Expect: It seems fairly obvious that with Babel, director Alejandro González Iñárritu continues his trademark, although not entirely unique, approach to storytelling. In his first exhilarating feature film, Amores Perros, he connected three distinct story threads, told from different points of view, with a single car crash. Similarly in the follow-up, the compelling and evocative 21 Grams, three lonely, troubled individuals were brought together through a freak accident. His narratives balance several seemingly unrelated stories in comfortable isolation from each other, until similarities begin to emerge and his characters’ lives grow closer. Eventually they are forcibly fused together through some catastrophic event. Babel is admittedly Iñárritu’s final chapter in what has loosely been labeled as a trilogy. It also marks the third time in as many films that he is working with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and some have credited him as the driving force behind the films’ structures. Arriaga’s credits largely consist of collaborations with Iñárritu, but recently he had a major critical success with his screenplay for Tommy Lee Jones’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. The film, which also depends on numerous temporal jumps as part of its structure, won him a best screenplay award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Regardless of who may be the greater genius between Iñárritu and Arriaga, the two men have collaborated with exceptional results up to this point and it is likely that Babel will be another successful foray for both.

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In reality, Babel has the potential to become Iñárritu’s most popular film yet. When you have Brad Pitt on board, you need not worry about attracting an audience. Although Pitt has lost some of his credibility as a risk-taking actor with the recent big budget adventures like Troy, Ocean’s Twelve, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, he is, as always, a superstar. This is his chance to recapture some of the earlier glory and acclaim for less conventional roles in films like 12 Monkeys, which earned him an Oscar nomination. Gael García Bernal’s career, on the other hand, has the same optimistic outlook at this junction that Pitt’s once had. He has quietly entered mainstream cinema with breakthrough Mexican films like Amores Perros and Y tu mamá también, and is now steadily moving into American productions, like this one. Cate Blanchett may be the best actor of all of them, however, and ultimately may represent the serene center of the movie. Along with stars like Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, the Oscar winner is one of the hottest actresses around, only lacking a little in the public recognition department compared to the other two.

Perhaps a hint of what this film will be about lies in the title Babel. It is possible that the name is derived from the Genesis chapter of the Bible, which describes a tremendous undertaking that a unified humanity once adopted to try and reach the heavens. After settling in a new location, the people attempted to build a massive tower that could reach up to God. Angered by their ambitious project, God decided to confuse them by giving each person a unique language. Unable to communicate any longer, the people abandoned their mission and dispersed throughout earth. God then named the area Babel and the building became known as the Tower of Babel. In general, the story was frequently used as an explanation for all of our world’s distinct races and languages.

Iñárritu’s films are about complete strangers, who share the universal feelings of grief, doubt, and regret, but are frequently reluctant to communicate with each other, allowing the situations they find themselves in to deteriorate. While some attain redemption, the destructive paths they chose, lead others to defeat. Similarly, the characters in Babel will be tried by unforeseen and devastating circumstances and the focus of the film will be squarely on the consequences of how they react. As the title suggests, their inability to communicate during the adversity will cause them to stray from the common goals that unite them. It should be one of those intensely absorbing pictures that questions human behavior “when the chips are down.” My only concern is with the film’s structure. As a comparison, I found the story in 21 Grams to be extraordinarily poignant and the film’s intricate temporal jumps in the narrative to be a fascinating exercise in editing wizardry. The two complemented each other beautifully and I could not imagine the film in any other way, however I still felt that somehow the style detracted from the substance. The narrative approach, while brilliant, was obtrusive to the incredible intimacy that resonated in this personal story. Babel will be the third film in a row (fourth for Arriaga) in which Iñárritu will attempt such a complex narrative as the context for his themes and I’m worried that it will feel too familiar or burdensome the third time around. The greatest mistake that Iñárritu could make is to go down the same path that M. Night Shyamalan took and allow his trademarks to dominate his films in an almost artificial way. I hope that Babel will not have a style that is so obvious and self-referential that it becomes a distraction.

In Conclusion: This is definitely an Oscar hopeful, although I’m not sure that Iñárritu will make as much noise with a third attempt at similar themes. It may not be the type of Brad Pitt film that most viewers have come to expect and is likely to lack the same publicity hype. As such, it will not have the box-office performance of, say, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and might leave those unwilling to follow a complex story with a bitter aftertaste. On the other hand, those intrigued by human drama and winding narratives, should be rewarded. I expect a powerful and compelling tragedy, filled with fine performances from some of today’s hottest actors. However, it may feel a little too familiar for those of us who have seen Iñárritu’s films before.

Similar Titles: 21 Grams, Amores Perros, Magnolia
November 10th, 2006 (wide)
October 27th, 2006 (limited)
February 20th, 2007 (DVD)

Paramount Pictures

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paul Terrell Clayton, Koji Yakusho, Elle Fanning, Adriana Barraza, Nathan Gamble, Michael Pena, Rinko Kikuchi

Total: 112 vote(s).


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Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use

142 min

English, Spanish, Japanese, Berber, Arabic





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