Review courtesy of SA Movie & DVD Magazine
By James O'Ehley
When bad things happen to stupid people — are we supposed to care? we ask of Babel, the latest Brad Pitt movie...
Director Alejandro González Iñáárritu's (21 Grams, Amores Perros) latest film is a sprawling epic filled with stupid people doing stupid things. Needless to say, bad things follow ...
An amateur Japanese hunter gives his rifle to his Moroccan guide as a thank-you gift. The guide promptly sells it to a subsistence goat farmer, who immediately hands it over to his two young boys without so much as some cursory safety instructions (''don't look down the barrel to check if there are any bullets in it'' or ''don't shoot at any passing cars or buses''). How's that for responsible parenting?
It gets worse. Stupidity truly runs in this family. The two boys immediately rush off to test the rifle by firing it at a passing tourist bus. But they're kids, I can hear you argue. Yeah, but truly dumb ones: even as a kid I knew that shooting a rifle at passing vehicles is just . . . well . . . stupid.
Also, in one of the film's most ech-y unrelated moments, one of the small boys spies on his older sister as she undresses. What is really high on the yuck factor is that (a) she knows he is watching and lets him do it and (b) later we catch the small boy as he is masturbating, no doubt thinking of her.
Anyway, an American woman (Cate Blanchett) travelling in the bus is wounded and her husband (Brad Pitt) has to cope with more stupidity as the American embassy and Moroccan authorities drag their feet in getting her airlifted out of the tiny nearby village in the middle of nowhere to receive professional medical attention.
As if this isn't bad enough, Pitt's fellow travellers in the bus score pretty high on the jerk-o-meter as all they can think of is getting on with their tour and leaving Pitt and his wounded wife stranded in the middle of the Moroccan desert.
Meanwhile, back in the States things truly take a turn for the stupid in one of the script's many unlikely coincidences as Pitt's illegal immigrant nanny taking care of his two small kids decides to take the two munchkins with her across the border to Mexico to attend her son's wedding. Just how did she think will she get the two American nationals back into the States without being denied entry as an illegal immigrant? Who knows?
But more stupidity ensues as her unreliable nephew driving the car they are in flees American border police and dumps her and the two small kids somewhere in the desert in the middle of the night, telling them that he'll pick them up later. By this time the amount of stupidity floating around in this movie had me turning to my wife and exclaiming aloud ''Just how much of this idiocy can we take?''
Lots more it seems. In a seemingly unrelated sub-story set in Japan, a sexually disturbed teenager girl flashes her genitals at men in crowded fast-food joints. Back in Morocco the goat farmer finally clues on as to what is happening and instead of sorting things out with the authorities (who thinks that they are dealing with anti-American terrorists and not mentally retarded minors) decides to escape the encroaching Moroccan police by taking his two small boys and the rifle in tow and fleeing on foot into the desert.
But it wasn't really fair of me to blame the characters because they were merely doing what the script demanded of them; and the script is filled with even more plot contrivances, coincidences and unlikelihoods than last year's Oscar-winning Crash. Subverting character to the demands of the plot is probably Babel 's biggest flaw.
The point is that when movie characters all act like contenders for this year's Darwin Awards, it is rather difficult to care for them even when the movie rains pours so much misery and gloom down on them — and the audience — as Babel does.
We all do stupid things at one point or another (believe me, I've made a fair share of dumb decisions recently) — it's only human, but Babel is ultimately a tiresome litany of annoyingly moronic behaviour. Finally one actually winds up hating the movie's characters for being the idiots they are and thinking how they actually deserve all the misery being visited upon them, just a pity that they're dragging others down with them.
Don't get me wrong: Babel is well-made with good acting (Pitt though can do better) and grand photography. But it cannot escape its script pretty much in the same way its characters also can't . . .
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