Since films like “The Constant Gardener” and “Traffic” have set a precedent for big budget Oscar contenders with a commentary on society, “Babel” is one of the many to enter the film community with a rather timely commentary. If anything, “Babel” should make for some interesting debating once the film has ended, and will surely enter into the Oscars eventually. Iñárritu’s film revolves around alienation and communication, and alienation not only through immigration, but through the differences that alienate us from everyone around us, even to people similar in nationality. Take for example Chieko who is a deaf-mute still grieving her mother’s suicide and seeks to be accepted in her country among her friends.
She does this through her inappropriate and utterly obscene sexual come-ons to many men of the opposite sex. Rinko Kikuchi gives a great performance as a girl who wants sexual acceptance aside from social acceptance. She watches people talking, and dances at a party where she can hear no music and has no idea how to live among others when the only person who accepted her has died. She and her father do not communicate well, but are essentially alienated from their inner circle and only have each other to turn to. “Babel” grabs you emotionally and doesn’t ease up until the surprising climax where Iñárritu not only conveys his message, but reveals how we can be connected, yet so disjointed in a time where we’re even closer than we realize. One incident affects the other, and so on, and this reveals the theme of the Butterfly effect.
One small mistake can create a domino effect and this happens through a single misfire. Through this we’re drawn into the most engrossing sub-plot, two brothers in Morocco competing, are sold a rifle, and through a misguided attempt at rivalry shoot at an oncoming bus. This then reflects on Susan who is shot. The scene where Blanchett is shot is not played for shock, yet it’s still a rather effective scene as she awakes with a horrible gunshot wound. She’s hours away from a hospital and instead is taken into a local village, where her husband Richard struggles to keep her alive, and begs for help from his embassy who can not help due to political issues with terrorism. He has to set aside his prejudices and pre-conceived notions about the country to save the life of his wife, in spite of the insistence from passengers begging to go home and threatening to leave him behind.
Even though Brad Pitt gets all the face time, the best performance isn’t from him, it’s from the small family of goat herders who are immediately deemed terrorists. The plot continues to unfold through actions involving border police, and a complex puzzle of individuals lost in their own world without any hope. Iñárritu’s and the studios are obviously vying for an Oscar with this one, and the derivation from success ensemble pictures like “Crash” and “Traffic” become too obvious all too often. “Babel” basically follows the conventions of previous societal commentary films. Told out of sequence, separate stories, fate intervenes, shot in a gritty style, void of any such sentimentality, etc. It seems awfully intent on garnering Oscars and various awards that you can sense it was almost a note on the screenplay.
Meanwhile, not all the sub-plots are provocative, or compelling. The storyline in Mexico was not only predictable, but blatantly gauging the audiences emotions and anxiously pressed the immigration issue ad nauseum. “Babel” presses its luck, and is never as subversive as it can be. Iñárritu’s film is a compelling piece of filmmaking, either way, with excellent performances, and verification that one small incident can change our lives and connect us closer than we realize. “Babel” may not be a masterpiece, but it kept me glued to my seat. Iñárritu’s film may be Oscar bait, and utterly manipulative with meandering storylines, but it still ends up being a very good piece of filmmaking that’s worth the audience. An ensemble cast, low-key drama, and tolerable political commentary make “Babel” a gripping success.