Babel, like Amores Perros, is a set of four interlinking stories that centre around the after effects of two little lads in Morocco being given a rifle and deciding to test out its range on a moving bus. And in a similar fashion to running with scissors, shooting at buses turns out to be a dangerous pastime. (Funnily enough the American government label it instantly as a terrorist incident. As would the UK government.) The other three stories deal with two American children being looked after by a Mexican nanny, a Japanese deaf and dumb girl, and an American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) who are travelling on the ill-fated bus.
I never really like anthologies. They always have their fair share of duffers and Babel, despite having the links between the stories, suffers from the same ailment. My favourite of the four tales has to be about the Japanese girl Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) and this has got the most tenuous link to the other stories. It's very touching and I found myself wishing away the other bits to get back to Chieko.
Gael Garcia appears in the Mexican nanny scenes. This little tale plays out like a Mexican version of Casualty. Amelia's (Adriana Barraza) son is getting married and there is no-one else to look after the children. So she gets her nephew (Bernal) to come and pick them all up and take them to Mexico for the wedding. We are then treated to some quality child care. By far the most offensive part is when Gael Garcia swings a chicken round by its neck and then rips off its head, sending it on its way to do the funny headless chicken dance so beloved of many Doncaster Rovers players. And this is all in front of the children. This wasn't done for real in the film but Gael Garcia admits to being a chicken killer in real life. Being a vegetarian, this hasn't done him any favours with me but at least he's willing to kill his food himself rather than having the Morrison's butcher do the dirty deed.
Anyway, chicken swinging aside, let's get back to the wedding. All the way through these scenes, I was just waiting for something to go wrong. And goes wrong it does. Just as we'd seen some quality chid care we then get some of the highest calibre orienteering. It's all a bit laughable really and spoilt this section of the film for me. It could have been rectified with the removal of one shot of a police car driving down a road. And I would have been happy.
Apart from decapitating fowl, Gael Garcia is more in the Y Tu Mama Tambien mode of gormlessness. It almost feels that he didn't have any acting to do: just get him drunk, give him a gun and let him loose at a party. Babel hasn't done anything to raise my opinion of laughing boy.
But I was quite impressed by Pitt and Blanchett. I don't mind Brad Pitt, especially after his turn in Fight Club, but I can't say that I'm that keen on Blanchett. I always feel that she's acting and being generally very actorly. Yet in this, she managed to grow on me, especially in a scene where she needs a widdle. Both Pitt and Blanchett were spot on in the way they managed to do this with some modicum of dignity.
Babel deals with the butterfly effect, well, that is if a butterfly took up a rifle and started shooting at buses. One incident in Morocco has an effect than spans the whole globe. Yet the children involved in the stories are all dealing with neglect in some form or another. And just as the story of the Tower of Babel has God splitting up people and giving them different languages, the stories here are told in four different languages. All clever stuff.
But did I like it? I've struggled giving it a rating because I enjoyed it for the most part but I wouldn't want to watch it again. Again it's one of those films that I can see why people would rate it more highly. I reserve the lofty ratings of 7/10 and above for films that I will rewatch at some time or another so Babel has to make do with:
(NB I was thinking of giving it an extra point on the rating due to the inclusion of a game of volleyball but sadly it wasn't played by a group of attractive naturists (bit of an oxymoron there). So sorry Babel, no bonus point.)
If you like this you could also try:
Amores Perros, 21 Grams.