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Movie Review: BABEL

A troubled couple on a marraige-salvaging journey through Morocco.  A Mexican housekeeper watching the couple's two small children.  A deaf mute teenaged girl desperate for favorable attention.  These are the towers of "Babel", and all of their foundations are shaken by the shattering piercings of a single bullet. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a novelist's approach to filmmaking.  His works ("Amores perros", "21 Grams") follow multiple storylines that coalesce into one emotionally thematic whole.  He's clearly a passionate filmmaker -- something of which movies are always in short supply.  He's also in love with the bombastic symphony of human drama that exists in his head.  What he's missing are the more delicate, nuanced notes.

This defect serves to hinder the film's emotional impact.  So many "big" moments become headache-inducing and numb you after a while.  The film has these kinds of moments plastered throughout its two and a half hour running time, but it's sorely deficient when it comes to enlightening observations.  A director like Robert Redford can work on a sweeping and lengthy scale as well, but he never ceases to produce little emotional tells that deepen the experience.  Nothing is played small in "Babel"; everything is punctuated by an exclamation.

Inarritu has the scope of a great novelist's imagination, but none of the precision.  For a film about human connectivity, the strands that meld these stories together are either razor thin or taper into negligible directions.  The subplot concerning the couple's housekeeper and her doomed sojourn to Mexico (while beautifully performed by Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza) seems oddly out of place.  The emotional continuity of the piece derails every time the sequence reappears.  Is this a statement on immigration and the preconceived attitudes that spawn tragic circumstances? Could be.  But even so, its inclusion is flimsy at best and the execution fails to piece together it's purpose into the film's tapestry.

Even flimsier is the connective tissue that binds the third major subplot, but the dramatic content feels much more true. Rinko Kikuchi (in the picture's most affecting and effective performance) plays a rebellious Japanese teen who yearns to feel connected with anyone following the suicide of her mother.  Inarritu shows real savvy when handling her story.  The directorial portrayal of the girl's physical and emotional disability provides some of the sharpest moments in the film.  Paired with the tragic shooting of Brad Pitt's tormented wife, played by Cate Blanchett, the teenaged girl's arc feels achingly relevant to the film's supposed theme.  Between these two stories, the film paints a clever, ambitious, and impassioned portrait of people who fail to connect. 

If only the film weren't so concerned with bombarding you with floods of trauma at every turn.  There's very little time to breathe and take in the intricacies of the character's parallel paths (if many exist at all).  But there are moments that linger in the mind long after you leave the theatre.  The use of music is exemplary; both deeply moving and eclectic.  And the last image of the film, featuring a completely exposed girl embracing the father she feels closed off to, is a stunner.  B-

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