Babel: An International Crash?

Imagine this: several simultaneous storylines revolving around different races that eventually become one dramatic interlocking narrative that binds them all together in a slightly depressing fashion. Sound vaguely familiar? Well if you guessed Paul Haggis’ Oscar Award winning film Crash, then congratulations, you are correct…sort of.

True, that is a loose explanation of Crash’s plot, but it is not the film under review here. The film now is Alejandro González I√±árritu’s Babel, a follow up of his 2003 hit 21 Grams.

If you want a quick rundown of Babel, there is no need to look anywhere past Crash: International Redux. But in all seriousness, it will undoubtedly draw heavy comparison to the latest winner of Best Motion Picture. The film follows four stories, set in Morocco, Mexico, Japan, and the wasteland of Southern California’s border with Mexico.

Starting in Morocco, we find two young Moroccan boys in a spot of trouble. After their father receives a rifle from an older Moroccan man, he has his sons protect their goats by shooting jackals. The boys, with a common sibling rivalry, argue over whom has the better shot, so they take target practice on a tour bus traveling by. Thinking they hit nothing, the younger boy doesn’t realize he has hit an American tourist.

With the female tourist, Susan (Cate Blanchett), in grave danger, her husband Richard (Brad Pitt) struggles to cope with both the shooting of his wife and the political strife between Morocco and the U.S., claiming it is a terrorist act. Meanwhile, their children Debbie and Michael (Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble) are in the hands of their nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza) back home in Southern California. With her son getting married in Mexico, Amelia has no choice but to secretly take the children into the country with the help of her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal).

In the last storyline, we see the story of a sex-crazed, deaf-mute Japanese teenage girl. The main purpose of this subplot, however, is to tie her father into the overarching story. The father, played by Kôji Yakusho, is responsible for giving the older Moroccan man the rifle in the first place. The importance: more or less nothing.

It seems this portion of the movie was thrown in to conjure up an R-rating for “some graphic nudity, sexual content…and some drug use.” The entire point of the incredibly loose connection is summed up in about a whopping 3-4 minutes of film time. In short, it is more than safe to say the whole story can (and probably should have been) completely thrown out of the film.

The film’s best storyline falls into the hands of the nanny and the two children. While Brad Pitt’s performance is solid (Blanchett’s performance is decent, but perhaps passable), the couple’s storyline does not involve a whole lot of depth. With the nanny comes the most emotional and gripping story of them all. It is a slightly run-of-the mill, but it is done too well to just pass off. The involvement of the kids, however, is what really carries this story.

Overall, the film struggles to find the ground Crash achieved in doing so well. Babel tries to be completely emotional and gripping for audiences, but falls short. Moving incredibly slowly, there is a decent possibility you’ll find yourself bored. It is worth checking out if you are into these kind of stories, but if you are looking for something with lots of substance or the slightest bit of excitement in a film, look elsewhere.