Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Kōji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza
It has become quite evident that no one enjoys the multiple connecting storyline style more than Alejandro González Iñárritu but never had he tried something as audacious as his attempt with Babel. While not landing each story perfectly, the intercontinental connection between these characters lands with some strong resonance boasted by some incredible actors.
Actions have their consequences as this story follows multiple different narratives that all connect in big and small ways. All telling tragic stories, it follows a harmed marriage, brothers trying to have some fun, an overwhelmed nanny, and a traumatized young woman.
Trying to write on Babel makes for quite the puzzle of what to reveal in order to optimize the viewing experience for a reader. Each story connects in a way that may be significant in one but just a fleeting thought in another, which adds to the challenge of sharing what occurs. The prevailing theme that connects them all seems to be recovering from trauma. That idea permeates through each of the stories in some way, which ultimately indicates that some painful moments will present themselves.
As mentioned before, this marks Alejandro González Iñárritu’s third attempt in making a film that connects different plots together. He did so with 21 Grams and Amores Perros with the latter being the far superior attempt. I would put Babel right in the middle between the two in terms of quality. This film certainly had much more ambition in regard to scale as these storylines take place in Mexico, Morocco, and Japan all at once rather than focusing on characters in a singular city. Having that large of a scale makes it feel more impactful at moments, but also takes away the intimacy that something like Amores Perros had with its story. It’s odd to see a director try this type of storytelling technique so many times because it lacks any sort of subtlety. You know it when you see it and I can only assume that the great Mexican director will try it again.
Babel certainly had no shortage of tremendous acting talent to fill in the story with some being previous collaborators with Iñárritu in the mix. There’s Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Adriana Barraza, Gael García Bernal, Elle Fanning, Rinko Kikuchi, and Kōji Yakusho among others. They all brought something special in their own way to the story with some having more trauma to deal with than others. A specific shoutout must go to Adriana Barraza, who had to take on such a difficult role that had the most tension to deal with. As the nanny to two American children crossing the Mexican border, it created for some pulse-pounding moments and everything that followed allowed her to display her skill as an actor.
While everything does not land gracefully in the story because it lacks subtlety, it must be added that Iñárritu knew how to drop the hammer in each storyline. Whether it connects with another thread or not, each one has a moment that will make you gasp out of either disbelief or fear for what’s to come. Iñárritu certainly did not have the intention of having this film be a comfortable viewing experience, but I did enjoy the variety in those gut-punching experiences. Presenting those moments showed the true character of each player in the story no matter how prominent their role was throughout. It shows that when all the chips are down, who will step up and protect, stand up, or comfort their fellow human being. Each story had its own catharsis and a mix of endings that can be perceived as hopeful while others feel incredibly heartbreaking.
It may fall in the middle in regard to quality in the filmography of Alejandro González Iñárritu, but Babel sure has some punches to throw and they land most of the time. It uses a storytelling method that has been overused at this point by Iñárritu, but I can see why he continues to indulge in it, as he can make a huge impact in the way different threads connect and what it says about humanity and the geopolitical factors that occur when people from a country of power interact with anyone else. Plenty under the surface and much of it bubbles over.