Babel—the latest collaboration between writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (the same team that brought us the acclaimed 21 Grams)—shifts its focus between four interconnected stories. In Morroco, a couple (Brad Pitt, Ocean’s Twelve and Cate Blanchett, Heaven) are trying to cope with a recent tragedy only to be faced with another. Meanwhile, in a nearby village, a young boy (newcomer Boubker Ait El Caid) endangers his entire family all because he feel the need to show off. Back in San Diego, a maid (Adriana Barraza, Loves Dogs) faces a dilemma when it comes to looking after her charges (Elle Fanning, Because of Winn-Dixie and newcomer Nathan Gamble). And, finally, in Japan, a deaf-mute girl (Rinko Kikuchi, Portrait of the Wind) is frustrated because she just can’t get across to “normal” people.
The only problem we had with Babel was that too much was going on. We understand that Arriaga and Innaritu chose to focus on such a diverse group of characters to demonstrate that a lack of understanding can occur just as easily within the confines of one race, as it can between races, but we’re sure that they could have streamed it down just a tad bit. The switches between tales took us out of the story at times, but luckily the cast was more than up to it.
As the anchor of the entire film, Pitt and Blanchett hold their own. Pitt, in particular, shines through during the scene where he’s conversing with his son on the phone. But it was El Caid that really surprises us and steals the show, despite not getting very much screen time. Displaying a gift for acting well beyond his years, his best moment is during the harsh climax of the story, when he and his family are confronted by the police.
Not exactly the best work from Arriaga and Innaritu, Babel still stands on its own as a slightly cluttered, but still very complex and commanding film. Fans should still relish in this one.