Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Babel Bobbels a Bit

I finally got my hands on a copy of Babel at Blockbuster’s. (In case you haven’t seen it yet, it recounts in parallel the disjointed stories of an American tourist shot in Morocco, the tourist’s kids and Mexican babysitter in the US and later Mexico, and the Japanese man who used to own the gun used in the shooting.) Even though it didn’t rake in many Oscars, after the Golden Globe hype, I had high expectations. It didn’t really live up, but given that hottie Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal was in it, I should be able to come up with some good things to say about the movie.

So here goes: The movie's message is intriguing, and the acting and shot-on-location scenery are decent all around. Garcia Bernal was stellar, as always, in the minor role of the Mexican babysitter's party-hardy nephew. However, the overall movie somehow seems to fall short. We are left guessing exactly what happened to Garcia Bernal's character in the end. In addition, there are no special features on the DVD that feature Garcia Bernal; actually no special features on the DVD at all. (What kind of a DVD these days has no special features?) Also, although Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi flashes major skin, Garcia Bernal keeps his clothes on the entire time, a fact that clearly prevented me from recommending the movie more highly.

Seriously, though, Babel can't quite carry off the distinct stories told in parallel thing. An interesting story technique, for sure, but it’s not like a movie can slide by on that alone, especially when the technique is not exactly fresh and new anymore. There was Crash, of course, and even before that it was used in another movie by the same director (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu) and writer (Guillermo Arriaga) as Babel called Amores Perros. (If you haven’t seen that one, you should rent it, if for no other reason than that Garcia Bernal is in it.) The difficulty with all such movies is that if the various story lines don’t mesh well, the whole movie can fizzle.

And therein lies the real problem with Babel. I truly had a hard time caring about the Japanese story line (despite the superb acting of Kikuchi as a deaf-mute teenage girl) because it did so little to advance the overall plot and its connection to the rest of the movie seemed contrived, as best. (Side note: I had a similar complaint with Amores Perros.) While it was refreshing to see that Japanese teens are as screwed up as American teens and parents there every bit as clueless about what to do about it - the underlying theme of the movie was basically that human behavior is universal regardless of culture or language - every time the metropolis of Tokyo flashed on the screen, I found myself counting the minutes until the scene would be over.
Not exactly a sign of a two-thumbs-way-up movie.

On the other hand, I'm not a movie critic. In fact, I usually disagree with what movie critics say. So, I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the movie after you see it. Because, bottom line, Babel is worth seeing. After all, Gael Garcia Bernal is in it!

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