Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Shot Heard 'Round The World

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett find medical aid hard to come by in Morocco during Babel

Have you ever seen the stereotypical student film? The type of film that's just a quick montage of random imagery of teeming violent crowds, babies born, missiles launching into A-Bomb explosions, kissing couples and rampant starvation? Rapid imagery strung together in a blur to signal the impending doom of humanity. Well, what if you took that movie and slowed it down, draw it out to, oh I don't know, three hours. Then you might have something that was like the biblical Tower of Babel. Or just the movie, Babel.

Babel is the 2006 movie by director Alejandro Inarritu. Inarritu also directed Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). Both movies featured jigsaw like story lines of seemingly unrelated characters all related to each other by a tragic incident. In Perros, Inarritu proved he could mastermind a movie that could feel realistic, draw strong performances that made you care for the characters and put them in a place of crushed dreams and desperate desires. You watch these people struggle like mice in a maze while the hand of fate gets closer and closer. It's a really good movie, so good Inarritu got to do another take on the same plot structure in English for 21 Grams. While 21 Grams was good, it felt like Inarritu was in a holding pattern creatively. With talent this good he needed to push himself and he does in Babel. Dude definitely ups his game here.

Inarritu takes his established story style and expands it. Where Perros and Grams had a big cast of characters interacting in a relatively small geographical area, in Babel he puts characters all over the world all linked together by two young Moroccan boys who herd animals that accidentally shoot an American tourist in Morocco while playing with a new rifle. The incident links together the story of the American tourist's painful attempts to get medical assistance in a third world country, the Moroccan boys hiding their terrible secret from abusive Policemen, the American tourist's children being taken to Mexico by their caregiver for a wedding and a deaf mute teenage girl in Japan trying to find personal acceptance through sex.

With such heady themes its easy for a director to lose control but Inarritu stays on it. He uses a variety of shots and camera styles (it ranges from shaky hand held close ups to helicopter shot wide outs) to find the right balance of global scope and character moments to bring the movie to life. The world blends into one as the smooth technological Japan bumps up to the abject poverty of Morocco and the middle ground of Mexico. Throughout, a distrust and simmering dislike of Government and authority comes through as lives are changed drastically over a short time. Everyone runs either metaphorically or literally towards salvation as The Man stomps on them like ants.

Like the title implies, Babel gave me the feeling of both the common thread of humanity and the barriers that separate us. It's a lot to take in and very long, I watched it in parts over three days, but it is worth seeing if you're in the mood for strong film making and some heavy mood.

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