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BABEL
Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 143 Minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2007

ďI started out doing a film about the differences between human beings, and ended up doing a film about what brings us together, not what tears us apart.Ē

-Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Film ****

Babel can best be described as an uncompromising and purely brilliant work of art. Itís a most challenging viewing experience that will either rivet of exhaust the life out of the viewer. In my case, though, itís definitely one of the greatest films of 2006.

The film represents the third straight collaboration of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriga. The two had previously collaborated on the riveting films Amores Perros and 21 Grams. Babel is the third film in a thematic trilogy, and it is for me the strongest and most brilliant film of the three.

Like the first two films, Inarritu structures the film in something of a jigsaw puzzle-like manner. Only in this film, his narrative structure is applied to a global scale, telling four stories that span over three different countries. Events happen that end up connecting characters who are far away and donít exactly collide at any point.

The film opens with the selling of a rifle to a poor family Morocco. The father lends the rifle to his two young sons to hunt down predators that are killing off their sheep. While taking practice shots, in order to determine the rifleís range, one of the boys takes aim at a tourist bus.

The second story involves an American couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), who are vacationing in Morocco. The wife is a bit bitter as to why they decided to come to the country in the first place. Moments later, they are on the very tourist bus that is fired upon. Susan is the tourist who is struck by the bullet.

This has an eventual effect on the third story of the film. The American coupleís two children are under the care of Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the familyís long time nanny. She has plans to travel to her home in Mexico to attend her sonís wedding. When her replacement canít make it and Richard urges her to postpone the wedding for a later date, she makes a last minute decision to take the children with her across the border, along with her hotheaded nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The fourth story takes places miles away in Japan. A deaf-mute teenager named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is going through a seriously depressing time following the suicide of her mother. This has also put her at an emotional distance from her father (Koji Yakusho), who has a direct connection to events unfolding in the other stories.

Oneís ability to get caught up in Babel will depend on their willingness to adjust to the filmís unconventional storytelling method. No other film in 2006 had critics and audiences more divided than this, and it is easy to see why (such was the case with last yearís similarly constructed Syriana). But I was able to get emotionally caught up in each individual segment and found myself floored when every angle of the film was finally connected.

Inarritu is simply a gifted artist, and a filmmaker who greatly understands fractured story narrative. He is been passionate in all of his films but shows his greatest strength yet in exploring the theme of how we, people of the world, poorly communicate with each other in times of extreme circumstances. And his multiple storyline format helps execute that message even more beautifully.

And the powerful story gives the actors involve a chance to shine, none of which is demonstrated better than Brad Pittís performance. Because heís limited to one story, Pitt doesnít have much screen time as one would expect, but his performance is nothing short of an intense emotional revelation. He may have done his finest bit of acting yet in this film, and thatís truly saying something once youíve considered the actorís work in films like Se7en, 12 Monkeys and, especially, Fight Club.

Inarritu also constructs one of the most stunning sequences of directing I saw in any movie this past year. Itís a sequence in Japan where Chieko gets together with a group of friends for a night of drug-induced escapism in the Tokyo nightlife. Itís a sequence that daringly puts you in her shoes, and the cutting of scenes leading up to a nightclub blasting out the classic Earth, Wind and Fire track ďSeptemberĒ is nothing short of absolutely absorbing.

Babel is an amazing work of art from a truly gifted cinematic artist that should definitely not go unnoticed, especially by those in search of adventurous, passionate and pure artistic filmmaking.

Video ****

The stunning anamorphic transfer, courtesy of Paramount, brilliantly exudes the global scale aspect of the film. Rodrigo Prietoís cinematography grabs you right from the very first shot. From that point on, the picture image is absolutely amazing as the film travels from setting to setting. Dynamic clarity and sharpness are displayed throughout the presentation. Extremely well done!

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix really does the large-scale film nicely. Though mainly dialogue oriented, the film does include a number of sequences that will show off amazingly on oneís sound system, especially scenes involving gunshots and, most definitely, a sequence in a nightclub. And the sweeping guitar score by Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain) is delivered perfectly through the channels!

Features ***

For this 2-Disc Collectorís Edition release there is essentially one addition, but itís one worthy of the rating I have given. The second disc features the documentary ďCommon Ground: Under Construction NotesĒ, which is a fully detailed account of the making of the film from beginning to ending stages. It runs nearly 90 minutes, and contains a great deal of depth in terms of what went in to the making of the film. Youíll also get a sense of Inarrituís intense passion for filmmaking.

Summary:

Babel is most challenging, to say the least, but the level of grand filmmaking and the underlying message are elements that simply canít be denied. Itís a grand cinematic masterpiece and one of the very best films of 2006!

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