Babel: The Sum is Lesser Than Its Parts
[Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen Babel, stop reading now.]
In anticipation of the Oscars tonight, I saw Babel today. Neither Brad Pitt nor Cate Blanchett delivered noteworthy performances. Both seemed like cardboard characters to me, as did their daughter. (The son had a few good moments.)
The plot was completely contrived. The Japanese subplot, while one of the two most interesting of the movie, had one of the weakest connections I've ever seen in a film.
On the other hand, there were three noteworthy performances, only two of which garnered an Oscar nod -- Amelia as the Mexican nanny to Pitt and Blanchett's children and the deaf Japanese teen who tried to seduce every male she encountered.
The third compelling performance was that of the Moroccan shooter boy. If Amelia and the Japanese teen got nominations, I think he deserved a nod as well.
Why Babel got a best picture nomination is unclear to me. But, the most perplexing is how it got a nomination for best editing. The editing was a big factor in the film's disjointedness. It was repetitive in its focus on the predictable police questioning of the Moroccan who sold the gun (and his wife) when we already knew what happened there, while there was not even a screen shot of how the American kids, whose detailed reactions to being at a Mexican wedding we watched extensively, were found in the desert. The film also overly dwelled on the bus passengers threatening to leave. They were entirely irrelevant to the larger plot.
After all the time spent developing the American kids' reactions to the Mexican wedding (the chicken strangling, the excess drinking and the irrelevant reference to the nanny hooking up with a widower) and their understandable fear of being left alone in the desert, a good editor would have included a shot or two about how they were rescued. The Babel editor relegated their rescue to a line in a newscast, without so much as a single screenshot. As for Pitt and Blanchett, there never was an adequate explanation of their history, the reason for their trip or a depiction of the problems in their relationship.
The editing sucked, and I am just shaking my head that it got a Oscar nomination.
I could have viewed an entire film of either the Tokyo or the Moroccan subplots. It was the American override that killed the film for me -- not only was it trite and contrived, but I never cared whether Blanchett lived or died and Brad Pitt was entirely marginal, a total cardboard character. Any actor could have played either one of their roles.
I hope the young lad who played the Moroccan shooter goes on to bigger and better things. He can act with his eyes alone. Same for the Japanese teen, who as a deaf mute tormented by family demons, has a great gift in her ability to communicate through body language rather than speech. The film is worth watching for them alone.
On the whole, Babel was a huge disappointment. I hope Pitt did it only for the money. Otherwise, there's no excuse.
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